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How to Find Thousands of Oceanic Fossils in… Ohio?

How to Find Thousands of Oceanic Fossils in… Ohio?

Thanks to Friends of Caesar Creek for supporting
this episode of SciShow! Go to to plan
your next outdoor adventure! [♪ INTRO] In the 1970s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
was excavating a spillway out of Caesar Creek Lake in southwest Ohio, about an hours drive
from Cincinnati. Caesar Creek isn’t a natural lake — it’s
a reservoir formed for flood control. And the spillway was to give the water a way
to escape without going over the dam. But as the engineers dug, they unearthed something
incredible: thousands and thousands of fossils. Today, of course, Ohio is more than 600 kilometers
from the Atlantic coast, but there, embedded in the rock, were the remains of
an ancient ocean, full of invertebrates like corals and starfish. People had been finding fossils around this
area since the 1800s, but this discovery was a game-changer, and today, Caesar Creek is a well-known fossil-hunting
location. But even though people have been finding ocean
fossils here for years, there is one thing that has never been found: a fish. Back when these fossils were living animals,
Ohio, of course, looked very different. On land, the weather was balmy, like a nice
day in the Caribbean, but it definitely did not look like The Bahamas. The land was barren. There were no birds in the sky or insects
flying around. Ohio’s big beech and elm trees were missing,
too — there wasn’t even grass or flowers. In fact, if you were there, the only green
you’d see would be down by the seaside, where something that looked like moss or liverwort
grew, crouched low by the water. The only land animals you’d see would be
small, millipede-like things, or maybe horseshoe crabs. But mostly, the land was empty. This was Earth during the Ordovician period
– a geologic period that ran from about 488 to about 443 million years ago. During this period, Ohio was somewhere around
the same latitude as modern-day Bolivia. And it, along with most of the middle of North
America, was covered in a shallow, stormy sea, about 20 meters deep. Now, while life on land wasn’t really a
thing yet, with the exception of some arthropods and non-vascular plants, the oceans were a
different story. Down there, life ran rampant. There were reefs full of coral, algae, and
sponges, along with weird, colonial animals called bryozoans and graptolites. Bryozoans tended to stay on the seafloor,
growing on rocks or the shells of other animals, while some graptolites built floating colonies
like apartment buildings. There were also clam-like brachiopods, and
lots of different echinoderms, including modern-looking starfish, and flower-like crinoids and blastoids. A lot of these kinds of animals can still
be found today, but one thing you will not find in modern Ohio are multitudes of trilobites
wandering around – those rolly-polly, pill-bug-like things. Back in the Ordovician, there were trilobites
like Isotelus, which could be more than half a meter long and which would eventually become
Ohio’s state fossil. Meanwhile, swimming around in the ocean water,
there were the age’s predators du jour: nautiloid cephalopods. These were the ancient relatives of modern
octopuses and squids, although these guys had shells, either coiled like a snail or
straight like a gigantic toothpick. When one of these creatures died, they would
fall to the seafloor, and their remains would be buried in sediment. The soft parts of their bodies likely disappeared
over time, but their shells remained, eventually forming rich fossil beds. In fact, so many creatures died here that
it’s been suggested that removing all of the fossils from beneath Cincinnati would
cause the city to fall below sea level. But despite all of these weird, fascinating
animals, there were no fish. At least, not in this sea. That’s mainly strange because fish had evolved
by this point in history, although they looked very different than what you’re probably
picturing. Typical Ordovician fish were ostracoderms. Jawless and armored, they often had large
bony shields on their head, small scales, and a small, slit-like mouth. Overall, they probably looked more like an
armor-plated tadpole than a salmon. But they did exist. Just not around Cincinnati. The closest thing we’ve found have been
conodonts, weird, primitive, eel-like things with big eyes. Scientists think that fish might have been
kept out of modern-day Ohio because it was simply too far offshore, or was otherwise
unsuitable to them. Studies have suggested that fish first evolved
in shallow, coastal waters. So an open ocean, even a relatively shallow
one, would have been off limits. Which means that Ohio was a world where invertebrates
ruled. Of course, everything ends in time and, eventually,
this purely invertebrate world did disappear. Possibly thanks to a sudden ice age, the Earth
went through a mass extinction, and in the next geologic period, called the Silurian,
fish did break out of their shallow-water restrictions. The most amazing part of this story, though,
isn’t the creatures that existed in the Ordovician. It’s the fact that all these fossils, and
the story they tell, would have been completely lost to us if it hadn’t been for a geologic
feature called the Cincinnati Arch. Researchers are still studying how it formed,
but one possible mechanism has to do with the Taconic landmass to the east of this area. It was a series of islands and volcanoes that
eventually went on to become part of the giant geological mishmash that became the Appalachian
Mountains. And it turns out that the sheer weight of
that tectonic traffic jam may have actually pushed down the Earth’s crust. That would have lifted up nearby areas like
a see-saw, or like how the edges of your bed go up when you lay on it. If that’s what really happened, it would
have kept the rocks in Ohio high up, possibly preventing new ocean sediment from burying
our Ordivician fossils too deep. Thus, the fossils would have been preserved
near the Earth’s surface, where we, several hundred millions of years later, would start
digging them up, giving us a chance to discover America’s ancient, fishless sea. Of course, you don’t have to rely on us
to tell you about these fossils. You can travel to Caesar Creek Lake and find
some of them yourself. Just stop by the Visitor’s Center to pick
up a free permit for collection in the spillway, and you’ll be good to go. Caesar Creek doesn’t allow any tools on
the site, but since there are thousands of fossils all over the place, collecting a handful
of them shouldn’t be too difficult. There are also plenty of other things to do
at the Park once you’re done fossil collecting, including boating on Caesar Creek Lake. But if you choose to do that — or if you’re
going to be on the water any time soon — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park rangers
at Caesar Creek would like to remind you to wear a life jacket. You can go to
to start planning your next trip to this historic natural site! [♪ OUTRO]

Reader Comments

  1. Great video. I'm from the area and have been to Caesar Creek a few times. Fossils are awesome, but the beach? Crowded and dirty.

  2. One of the best video and ad mix I've seen. I'm curious how it came about. Did Friends of Caesar Creek contact SciShow, or the other way around?

  3. I’m from Ohio and there was a place that I went to dig for fossils (might be this place). However now all that’s there is really just basic seashells. As far as I’ve found.

  4. Hank, that's really facinating and all, and i'd love to visit this place if i ever traveled there. However what does the back of your shirt look like? Do the horizontal and vertical lines cross? Is there just a hard cut in the middle at some sort of seam?

  5. So, this is why all the creeks I played in growing up in the region as a young human. Has fossils in them every where you looked. Use to find whole creatures worn out of the rocks and the fossil un harmed yet.

  6. We have a fossil park up here in Toledo Ohio too! Well, Sylvania which is part of the Toledo area. And in Oak Openings you can find the sand dunes which are the remnants of an ancient beach.

  7. i think that a round trip to ceasar creek might be a bit to much. it just the plain ticket would be around a $600 if i fly in to the closest airport.

  8. This is for sure one of my favorite sponsorships ever on SciShow. Really delightful. I grew up in Ohio. I really want to go visit this now with my kids. It would be super fun.

  9. So I can go on a vacation AND maybe come home with a trilobite? sold

    (Wow…Ohio is on my vacation list…)

  10. 0:36 for your American viewers, can you throw in Imperial measurements in parentheses? It helps develop number sense, for those interested.

  11. It would be worth following this up with a video on the major paleontological find near Cleveland, OH during construction for Interstate 71 in the late '60s. From what I read, the number and diversity of the fossils revolutionized researchers understanding of Devonian life. And there were fishes, including the fossil that really sparked my interest in paleontology as a child, the Dunkleosteus. Here is a brief retrospective on the fossil bed discovery.

  12. Super off topic but I think a compilation about mental illness like depression, eating disorders, and anxiety would be a cool video.

  13. I love Cesar Creek. I have a bunch of these fossils from there. I have a horn coral bigger than my fist

  14. ceaser's creek is a great place to go great fishing, a beach to enjoy plenty of boating options and fossil hunting but becareful hunt fossils only in the areas they tell you too there are copperheads all through out the woods there

  15. Cool video on ancient times but pretty much just seems like a sales pitch to go visit Caesar creek.

  16. Cincinnati is a hot bed for fossils. Growing up I thought it was just normal but apparently it's pretty special!

  17. Hey I have some fish and they have lyre tails. I was wondering what the lyretails were for? There isn’t hardly anything on google so I’d rather come to you guys. Plus I thought it was an interesting topic. Please make a vid on it thanks!

  18. Been there and other creek beds, it truly is a matter of bending over and picking them up-
    Northside, Cincy, O.

  19. We used to go here all the time for field trips in elementary and middle school. A very interesting place to visit.

  20. On the Mongollon Rim in Arizona, you can find corral and other sea fossils at 7,000 feet in elevation.

  21. Some people say if you dig deep enough, you may discover a bengals superbowl ring. But I've heard that's just a legend.

  22. Some years back (93) you may remember hearing about the Iowa River flooding. The Coralville Reservoir near Iowa City overflowed bad enough they couldn't let water out fast enough so it went over the spillway. May have been the first time. The flow of water washed away all the soil down to the bedrock, exposing lots of fossils. One of the oddest things exposed was this blob of tar like substance roughly 10 feet in diameter and 5 feet high. Last time I was there, the blob was gone. I wonder what happened to it?

  23. I grew up in Waynesville, Ohio (which is where Ceaser Creek Lake is located).

    I usual to love going to look for fossils at the spillway when I was a kid.

    Great video, keep it up.

  24. "Got a whale of a tale to tell you lads,
    A whale of a tale-or two!-
    'Bout the flappin' fish and the girls I've loved,
    On nights like this with the moon above…
    A whale of a tale and its all true:
    I swear by my tattoo!"

  25. I totally have fossils I found here when I was 8! I LOVE paleontology and fossils! Also, scishow should totally do a video on the new discovery in hell creek! They found fossils that show the effects of the asteroid and mass extinction 65 million years ago! It’s fascinating to see a snapshot of the KT boundary!

  26. Very good video, but the website doesn't look like it has been updated since 2016. I live less then 3 hours away and you got me interested in visiting there some time though. I never knew about it until this video.

  27. Used to find fossilized fish and birds around Adams county!?!? Never complete skeletons but clearly birds and fish

  28. Am an native Ohioan living in Kansas. Saw the thumbnail and had to watch. Very interesting!!! Have heard about all those fossil beds in the Ohio River that people can visit during the cold weather months when the water levels are down. Never heard of this location. Next trip home visiting relatives, will have to make a detour to this location. there are lots of fossil beds in Iowa like what is depicted in this video. Kansas was bottom of an inland sea at one time, so rich in various aquatic fossils as well.

  29. I took a geology and paleontology class at the university of Cincinnati and my professor Carl Brent told us all about this. He’s totally obsessed. Also I got a permit from Caesar creek when I was probably 11

  30. I lived in Northern Kentucky right across the river from Cincinnati for 20 years. My grandsons found a fossil in a dry creek bed behind our house that looked like a flower made up of hollow tubes!

  31. Growing up in Cincinnati, I always called it Caesar’s Creek because we needlessly add possessive S’s to proper nouns like Kroger’s or Meijer’s

  32. He sounded so angry to remind us to wear life jackets. I wonder how many times he was reminded like a nagging mother to say it.

  33. Used to go there as a kid. My uncle was in on figuring what was gonna get flooded when they shut th water off. I have been in the lake with scuba gear also. Cold sucker. Dug a bunch of fossils.

  34. First! I mean, not first to comment, obviously, but apparently I was the first person to mention this episode to the Park Ranger at Caesar Creek when we visited on Friday! It was a 3.5 hour drive each way from Cleveland to the park, but it was so worth it! I was worried the site would be picked-over and all the good stuff would've been picked up already, but we found some beautiful fossils in the first couple of minutes, right next to the car park. We spent an hour combing up and down the spillway and found a fantastic selection – a day well spent!

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