Department of Earth Sciences alumni display SMU pride at Hokkaido University Museum


On the right is Dr. Yoshitsugu Kobayashi, a professor at Hokkaido University, Soporo, Japan.  He received a master’s and Ph.D. In Earth Sciences from SMU.  On the left is Yosuke Nishida, now an editor for Springer based in Tokyo, who received his MS in Earth Sciences from SMU.  The photos were taken in the Hokkaido University Museum.

Dale Winkler, Shuler Museum of Paleontology, featured in a series of essays on the Trinity Project, published on Frontburner

D Magazine, Frontburner

Originally Posted: October 11, 2016

In addition to Pioneer Cemetery, there’s another quiet space in Dallas that holds the bones of ancestors: the Shuler Museum of Paleontology, located on the SMU campus. The Shuler Museum has no fully assembled skeletons of prehistoric carnivores on premises or other dazzling displays (though the day I visited, there was a stack of giant turtle shells in plaster jackets in the hallway, outside the entrance). For one, the museum is a shoebox of a space located on the basement floor of the Earth Sciences building. There isn’t the room for that sort of thing. Second, the fossils here function as teaching and research collections. A casual visit from a non-expert like me requires an appointment and a great amount of patience from the host, which I received in abundance from vertebrate paleontologist and museum director Dale A. Winkler.

The museum is arranged library-style with mastodon tusks and similar large bones laid out neatly on gray industrial shelving, while smaller specimens — teeth, small bone, shell, scute, and more — are held in cabinets with pullout trays lined in soft material and organized by collection. The occasion for my visit was to view those specimens described by Bob H. Slaughter and others in the 1962 report “The Hill-Shuler Local Faunas of the Upper Trinity River, Dallas and Denton Counties, Texas.”

My questions, then as now, are basic: what kinds of animal roamed the area now known as the Great Trinity Forest? What kinds of plants and trees were present? What was the climate like? How was the Trinity River floodplain formed?

Answers to these questions can be supplied in part because there’s a fossil record, thanks to the efforts of Winkler, Slaughter, and Ellis W. Shuler, the person for whom the museum is named. Shuler was hired by SMU in 1915, the year it opened, to teach geology and related courses. He served as head of the Geology Department and Dean of Graduate Studies until his retirement, in 1953.

As a researcher, Shuler often wrote about subjects close at hand: dinosaur tracks at Glen Rose, geology of Dallas County, terraces of the Trinity, and vertebrate fossils in river deposits. In a 1934 report, he posited, “The industrial use of sand and gravel in the City of Dallas has uncovered almost daily over a period of 50 years bones of fossil elephants.” That’s because, according to Shuler, “the best preserved fossils are found in the sand terraces along the Trinity river about 50 feet above the present floodplain.”

He did more than observe Dallas’ “fossil elephants” (or more precisely, mammoths); he convinced the operators of local quarries, who routinely tossed fossil remains “aside on the dump heap,” to allow him to excavate. That’s no small task, getting a business to stop the wheels of progress to dig for fossil elephants. This is especially true for sand and gravel operations, which have been a lucrative enterprise in the Dallas area since at the early 1840s. Sand and gravel, then as now, provide the essential ingredients for building a modern city — roads, runways, structures, pipelines, culverts. A Dallas Morning News headline from 1946 says it all: “No Oil on Your Land? Then Try for Gravel.”

In the late 1950s, Slaughter continued the tradition Shuler had begun. He was given permission from Dallas quarry owners to excavate fossil-rich zones. Two of those quarries — called the Moore pit and the Wood pit — were located 700 yards apart in an area off South Loop 12 (now called South Great Trinity Forest Way). A third site, called Pemberton Hill, was situated 400 yards to the northwest of the Moore pit.

Labor at these three locations unearthed evidence of: ancient camel, bison, armadillo, sloth, saber-tooth cat, mastodon, mammoth, wolf, tapir, turtle, crocodile, eagle, a variety of horses, vole, mink, hare, and more.

During excavation at the Moore pit, one of the numerous clay balls regularly encountered in the sand was inadvertently sliced open. Inside was a coprolite (fossilized dung) that contained the hard parts of insects, later identified as: beetle, ant, bee, wasp, stink bug, leaf bug, cockroach, cricket, millipede, and centipede.

Slaughter and colleagues dated the alluvial deposits where specimens were found in excess of 37,000 years, or late Pleistocene. For an age comparison, the city of Dallas received its town charter a mere 160 years ago.

Once the Moore and Wood pits had been depleted of sand and gravel, and excavation stopped, another enterprise emerged in the early 1980s for which the citizens of Dallas continue to pay. The giant holes from mining were filled with trash — illegal, hazardous trash over a long period of time.

What Slaughter called the Wood pit, a mining operation located at the south end of Deepwood Street, was at the heart of Herman Nethery’s notorious Deepwood landfill. In 1997, the massive landfill caught fire and burned for 52 days. After an extensive environmental cleanup on the city’s dime, the site became the Trinity River Audubon Center in 2008.

Not all municipalities treat their mammoth sites the same way, and at least one North Texas gravel pit owner has reached out to paleontologists with an invitation to dig, rather than the other way around. The “fossil-rich alluvial terrace deposits” of Shuler’s and Slaughter’s time are of our time, too. What will we choose to do with the resources under our stewardship in the name of progress? READ MORE

Special DPS – SMU Lecture! October 4

Tuesday, Oct 4th, 7:30 PM, 153 Heroy Hall, Southern Methodist University

Dr. Barbara Seuss of Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, Germany, will speak on “The Buckhorn Asphalt Quarry – An upper Carboniferous ‘Impregnation Lagerstätte’ “. In the Arbuckles near Sulphur, Oklahoma, a Pennsylvanian asphalt seep preserved aragonitic shells, tiny larvae and protoconchs, and delicate ornamentation and microstructure of many species. The deposit contains the best preserved Paleozoic molluscs in the world. Dr. Seuss will discuss the geology of the deposit, its facies and fauna, isotopic analyses, and bio-erosion and predation observed in some of the fossils. SMU faculty, students, and DPS members and friends are invited to this free lecture. Parking will be free in the lot just W of Heroy Hall.

For more information:
Dr. Bonnie Jacobs, Professor
Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences SMU

Drone video footage of Malawi dig site

Originally Posted: August 22, 2016

American archaeologists of their field areas in Malawi, where Louis Jacobs is now. He is working with Dr. Elizabeth Gomani Chindebvu, former SMU graduate student.  The Mwakasyunguti valley is below the red layer where the archaeologists were digging.  The dinosaur beds are the light colored beds.

Oh, the places Dedman College students will go… (after graduation)!

Dedman College graduate employer list

Laser Beats Rock: Armored Dinosaur May Have Relied Most on Sense of Smell

Laser Beats Rock

Originally Posted: July 25, 2016

Independent science journalist Sarah Puschmann covered the research of SMU Earth Sciences Professor Louis L. Jacobs in a post on her blog “Armored Dinosaur May Have Relied Most on Sense of Smell.”

A professor in Dedman College‘s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Jacobs is co-author of a new analysis of the Cretaceous Period dinosaur Pawpawsaurus based on the first CT scans ever taken of the dinosaur’s skull.

A Texas native from what is now Tarrant County, Pawpawsaurus lived 100 million years ago, making its home along the shores of an inland sea that split North America from Texas northward to the Arctic Sea.



By Sarah Puschmann
Laser Beats Rock

In 1819, the German naturalist Lorenz Oken found something astonishing inside a pterodactyl’s broken skull: petrified mud in the form of the long deceased dinosaur’s brain, so well molded into the crevices as to reveal the brain’s two distinct halves.

This so-called “fossil brain” is one of the first known instances of a cranial endocast, an internal cast of the skull that makes the impressions of the decayed soft tissue visible. For paleoneurologists not lucky enough to uncover a natural endocast, some have opted to slice open skulls and made molds using liquid latex rubber or plaster of Paris.

But cutting open a skull for study isn’t always an option, particularly if it is a holotype, the singular specimen used to define a species for the first time. This is the case for the 100 million year old skull from a dinosaur called Pawpawsaurus campbelli studied by Ariana Paulina-Carabajal of the National Research Council of Argentina (CONICET) and the Institute of Investigations in Biodiversity and the Environment (INIBIOMA) and her team, led by Louis Jacobs.

By CT scanning the skull, it was possible to make important insights about the dinosaur’s olfaction and hearing while leaving the precious holotype intact. Their analysis led the researchers to conclude that smell was the sense Pawpawsaurus most likely relied on most, as reported in the journal PLOS ONE.

This is valuable information, especially because so little is known about this dinosaur. What is known is that the four-legged herbivore most likely had long spines on its shoulders and neck, as was the case for other members of the same family of nodosaurids. It also probable that Pawpawsaurus wasn’t endowed with the knob of bone in its tail characteristic of ankylosaurids, a related dinosaur family, nor did it experience the satisfaction of slamming a club tail against, well, anything. (Was there such a thing as tail envy?)

Post-Gondwana Africa and the vertebrate history of the Angolan Atlantic Coast

Memoirs of Museum Victoria

Originally Posted: July 25, 2016

Authors: Louis L. Jacobs1, MichaelJ. Polcyn1, Octávio Mateus, Anne S. Schulp, António Olímpio Gonçalves and Maria Luísa Morais

  1. Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas 75275, United States (; 

Abstract: The separation of Africa from South America and the growth of the South Atlantic are recorded in rocks exposed along the coast of Angola. Tectonic processes that led to the formation of Africa as a continent also controlled sedimentary basins that preserve fossils. The vertebrate fossil record in Angola extends from the Triassic to the Holocene and includes crocodylomorph, dinosaur, and mammaliamorph footprints, but more extensively, bones of fishes, turtles, plesiosaurs, mosasaurs, crocodiles, and cetaceans. Pterosaurs, dinosaurs, and land mammals are rare in Angola. The northward drift of Africa through latitudinal climatic zones provides a method for comparing predicted paleoenvironmental conditions among localities in Angola, and also allows comparison among desert and upwelling areas in Africa, South America, and Australia. South America has shown the least northward drift and its Atacama Desert is the oldest coastal desert among the three continents. Africa’s northward drift caused the displacement of the coastal desert to the south as the continent moved north. Australia drifted from far southerly latitudes and entered the climatic arid zone in the Miocene, more recently than South America or Africa, but in addition, a combination of its drift, continental outline, a downwelling eastern boundary current, the Pacific Ocean to Indian Ocean throughflow, and monsoon influence, make Australia unique. READ MORE

Meet the Scientist: Eveline Kuchmak, an SMU alumna and current Manager of Temporary Exhibitions at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science

The Rock Report

Originally Posted: July 18, 2016

Meet: Eveline Kuchmak

Another Southern Methodist University alumna (Pony Up!), Eveline graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Economic Sociology. Growing up she “lived for trips to art and science museums, space camp, Pony Club veterinary workshops, and the latest issue of National Geographic.” She was homeschooled for much of her childhood and her parents always made sure she had a healthy dose of curiosity. After graduation, she attended archaeological field school in New Mexico which only reinforced her desire to discover new things and share these experiences. This path has led her to a career inspiring others through science museums.

She began working at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in education and public programs; however, at the beginning of this year she transitioned into her new role as Manager of Temporary Exhibits. READ MORE


Congratulations to Timothy S. Myers, Neil J. Tabor, Louis L. Jacobs and Robert Bussert, co-authors of a new paper in the Journal of Sedimentary Research

Journal of Sedimentary Research

Originally Posted: July 19, 2016

Congratulations to Timothy S. Myers, Neil J. Tabor, Louis L. Jacobs and Robert Bussert, co authors of a new paper in the Journal of Sedimentary Research titled “EFFECTS OF DIFFERENT ORGANIC-MATTER SOURCES ON ESTIMATES OF ATMOSPHERIC AND SOIL pCO2 USING PEDOGENIC CARBONATE.” READ MORE