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Quarry site was vast lake during Triassic era
Virginia Museum of Natural History Curator of Paleontology Alton “Butch” Dooley holds a fossilized rock specimen of Tanytrachelos, a small aquatic reptile species from the Triassic period, about 225 million years ago. The fossil was discovered at the former Virginia Solite Co. quarry at Cascade. (Bulletin photo by Mickey Powell)
Many millions of years ago, the former Virginia Solite Co. quarry in Cascade was a lake, which a Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) scientist said helped make the site a rich repository of fossils of prehistoric life.
Alton “Butch” Dooley, the museum’s curator of paleontology, said the lake existed in the Triassic era roughly 250 to 200 million years ago. Virginia was in a tropical region of a supercontinent now called Pangaea, he said.
The lake was about two miles wide and 40 miles long, and it covered areas where Chatham, Danville, Eden, N.C., and Mayodan, N.C., now are, he said.
He surmised that the lake existed for a few hundreds of thousands of years before it became filled with sediment.
Many of the museum’s fossils from the quarry site are on display as part of its “Uncovering Virginia” exhibit. Others are in storage.
The quarry, according to scientists, is the only place in the world where complete fossilized insects from the Triassic period have been discovered. Yet numerous insect, plant and freshwater fish fossils also have been found there over the years.
Insect fossils found include those of water bugs, roaches, flies and scorpion flies, which Dooley said are different from regular flies.
They also include “bits and pieces of things probably related” to katydids and dragonflies, he said, as well as “a lot of pieces of things we don’t know what they are. They may be things that are not around (on Earth)” today.
All of the ancient reptile species and most of the fish species for which fossils have been found at the quarry “have no living relatives,” and plant species discovered there have only distant living relatives, Dooley said.
“A lot of the flora and fauna (from the Triassic era) look very much unlike what you see today,” but insects from then and today look similar, he said.
Numerous changes in life forms have evolved in the past 200 million years, he added, noting that “the face of the Earth looks very different now.”
Pangaea’s separation into different continents resulted in different climates and weather patterns that affected how species evolved, he said.