Echoes from Ages Past
Geological history is measured in very long periods of time. Here we will just briefly touch on findings of geologists as related to the periods that left us certain famous prehistoric fossils and petrified fauna which have been found in our area.
Going back 600 million years ago, our area remained rock which was formed when the surface of the molten stuff of the earth cooled. There was no soil. When someone is drilling for a well or an oil well and he remarks, “I hit ‘bed-rock’ “— That is it!” Wind blew incessantly and rains fell. Sediments from the rock washed into the shallow Cambrian Sea to the west of us. Life began in the seas. Millions of tiny invertebrates, such as trilobites, lived in the seas. Their fossils are found in Cambrian rock. Trilobites persisted on earth for 325 million years.
Later, the Ordovic Sea flooded seventy per cent of North America, including our area. More sediment washed from the rock. This sea dried up for millions of years.
Again, 425 million years ago, our area was sub merged by another sea, the Silurian Sea; wherein millions of trilobites and other sea animals lived.
Effie Mattson found a fossil of one of these trilobites in a rock on top of a hill north of Rockglen. It is hard to believe that, 400 million years ago, our hills were a sea floor where marine arthropods, such as trilobites, lived and crawled in millions.
About 405 million years ago, during the Devonian Period, for 65 million years, seas periodically covered the Great Central Plains, including our area. These seas were warm and shallow and teemed with billions of in vertebrates and water plants — forerunners of enormous ferns, etc. which developed as seas were drying up.
Mr. Belbeck discovered an imprint of a huge leaf resembling a palm leaf, in lignite coal which he dug from the bottom of Fife Lake when it dried up in 1937.
Huge sea creatures evolved and developed lungs so they could crawl from one body of water to another during the next 65 million years — the Carboniferous Period.
By 100,000,000 years ago reptiles had developed as far as the mighty brontosaurus, the largest land animal that ever lived — A vegetation eater.
The Age of Reptiles also produced the flesh eaters, such as the TRYANNOSAURUS. The almost brainless DINOSAURUS were no match for these fierce reptiles.
Later, a slow change came over the climate of the earth — the tropical forests receded — temperate and then cold regions began to spread — and the giant reptiles, whose blood followed the temperature of the air, died by the millions and vanished.
During the next 50 million years — the Permian period, millions of huge sea creatures evolved into hundreds of varieties of huge land creatures (reptiles) which dominated the warm, humid earth of our area during the Triassic period up to 181 million years ago.
In 1919 a Brontosaurs, 66 feet long, was excavated from the area west of Killdeer, and shipped to Ottawa.
The Jurassic Period, which ended 100 million years ago, produced two different kinds of huge reptiles. As well as the almost brainless vegetation eaters, such as the Brontosaurus which was the largest animal that ever lived, there was the fierce, flesh eating Tyrannosaurus.
In 1965 the fossil of a Tyrannosaurus, estimated to be 15 feet long, was excavated from an area west of Killdeer and sent to Ottawa. The event that led up to this excavation was the discovery, by Martin Nagel and Nick Moneo, of the fossilized vertebra of a dinosaur. This vertebra was sent to Regina Museum where geologists saw it and became interested. Martin Nagel and Nick Moneo were at the scene of the excavation and said the fossil was only about two feet below the surface of the earth.
During the next 72 million years — the Cretaceous Period, the last great sea covered part of The Great Central Plains. This sea teemed with fish and huge sea animals.
A giant sea turtle, 12 feet long, was excavated from the area west of Killdeer. It was believed to have lived 100 million years ago.
Many here have discovered rock containing numerous shellfish fossils. These animals are not only one of the largest groups of animals today; they are also one of the oldest. Fossil remains indicate that they have been common in the seas for more than 500 million years.
About 63 million years ago, the Tertiary Period, there were no mountains between us and the Pacific Ocean. Then the top crust of rock on the earth’s surface was broken and heaved to form jagged ridges of mountains. This brought a tremendous change to the plains region east of this ridge. Shut off from the warm, moist winds of the ocean, the climate changed from tropical to temperate, with cold north winds. This may have finished the giant reptiles whose blood followed the temperature of the surrounding air; for they died by the millions and only their fossils remain to prove their existence and domination in this region for 100 million years.
No more great seas flooded the plains. Winds blew incessantly and caused tremendous dust storms; so our area was a desert. Then rains fell and filled rivers which carried rock particles to form sand and clay. After millions of years of weathering, by wind and water, eventually soil was formed on which plants flourished; also, thousands of mammals from mice to wooly mammoths.
By 25 million years ago the mountains to the west of us were worn down and once again moist winds made our climate sub-tropical. Great trees flourished, died, and were buried to form lignite coal and petrified wood.
A few miles east of Fife Lake village, a petrified tree was found which was about four feet in diameter at the base and long enough to reach 30 feet through a hill.
The lignite coal here is believed to have been formed in that period. It is close enough to the surface to be strip- mined.
In 1955 a biologist from Ottawa discovered fabulously rich fossils in Lawrence Yost’s gravel pit and along the No. 2 highway’ cut banks close by. They found 15 million year old bone fossils of mammals, including the three- toed horse, squirrels, mice, beavers, rabbits, weasels and shrews; also horn-cores of small antelope.
Again, in 1967, two biologists from Toronto came to Lawrence Yost’s farm but found nothing much. Lawrence suggested that they should look at the sand pit of John Kleinfelder. Here they found the richest deposit of small mammal fossils so far found in North America. As well as bones of small mammals which they found, a nearly complete skull with most of the teeth, of a three- toed horse, was found by Leonard Kleinfelder.
A tusk and other bone fossils believed to have been those of a four-tusked mastodon were found by John Kleinfelder. These were identified by Dr. L. S. Russell, chief biologist for the RoyalOntario Museum. The four tusked mastodon is an extinct genus of elephants, believed to have weighed up to ten tons, with a length of twenty-two feet and a height of eleven feet.
About 20 million years ago, the climate in our area changed drastically. Warm, moist winds were replaced by cold, dry ones. Tropical plants were replaced by grasses.
Many imprints of tropical plants are found between layers of rock in the hills in our area.
In the era 15 million years ago, these plains were populated by hundreds of species of mammals — grazing and carnivorous.
One million years ago great glaciers covered almost all of Canada. There were four glacial periods, with periods of temperate climate in between. In glacial times the average thickness of the ice was 8000 feet. As the ice masses advanced in a southerly direction, it is estimated that they covered almost the whole of Saskatchewan at one time.
The area around Rockglen is one of four, in North America, unaffected by glaciations. No glacier buried our fossil treasure under tons of earth and debris. The other three unglaciated areas are at Cypress Hills, Sask., Porcupine Hills in Alberta and an area in the State of Wisconsin, U.S.A.
This was brought to our attention on Oct. 13, 1973, when Rockglen and district was included in a tour by Dr. Caviades and 34 of his Geomorphology students from Regina Campus of University of Sask. When they made a study of the unglaciated surface around Rockglen, they found rock formations with vegetation imprints, petrified wood specimens and various examples of erosion which provided evidence of an earth surface 60 million years old.
So, as your mind goes back to the pioneers, the Indians and the buffalo; let your imagination wander back further — back to a time when most of our land was covered with huge beds of ice; still further back to when it was covered with lush, tropical growth and millions of huge creatures; again, back to when it lay at the bottom of huge seas; then, once more, back to when it lay at the bottom of huge seas; then, once more, back to when it was solid, hard rock, formed when the molten surface of the earth cooled. What an interesting journey your imagination will have. Effie Mattson
The Rockglen area is one of the richest Miocene Era fossil sites in Western Canada, with many fossils having been found on the Kleinfelder and Koch farms a couple of miles west of the Town of Rockglen. Should you be visiting the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto or the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in Regina, most of our local fossils will be listed as “Kleinfelderii” specimens.
Mastodonts were present in the area from sixteen million years ago until their extinction between ten and eleven thousand years ago, likely by the Clovis Paleo-Indians or possibly by loss of habitant during the last ice age.
They were distantly related to Mammoths and modern elephants and ranged over the entire North American Continent from the Honduras to Alaska with various species measuring up to thirteen feet in height at the shoulder. Their long, curved upper tusks were shorter than the woolly mammoth and less curved, while the lower two tusks of our locally found mastodont, which can be seen in the Royal Museum in Regina, are much closer together and slope upward, being helpful in ripping up the small trees and tree branches that formed much of their diet.
From existing evidence, it seems likely that our area was first inhabited by man shortly after the disappearance of the last ice sheet which covered our land, starting about 18,000 years ago.
These first men are thought to have come from Asia, across the land bridge, to our continent; then traveled down the coast, through the mountain passes and reached our plains. They were meat-eaters and, for food and clothing, killed the massive, shaggy bison which were ancestors of our ‘buffalo’.
A stone spear head was found at Mortlach by John Scott, Effie Mattson’s father. It was claimed, by scientists, to have been used by man 10,000 years ago.
Thousands of years later, when men from another continent came here, they found this early man had developed a way of life very well adapted to his needs. These men were misnamed ‘Indians’. In our area these native people were still mainly meat-eaters and used tools made from stone to kill and prepare their meat and to prepare the skins for clothing and homes.
Some of these stone tools that are found here are the stone axe or hammer, stone points for arrows and spears, stone knives, stone scrapers and stones on which meat and berries were pounded together before being dried.
They also carved some implements from bones, horns and antlers. Some of these were spearheads, hunting knives, scrapers, spoons, awls and needles. Ornaments for their bodies they made from animal claws and teeth, birds’ feathers and shells.
In this area, the large herds of buffalo were their chief source of food, clothing and shelter. To kill one of these huge animals, with bows and arrows or spears, when per formed on foot, was quite a feat.
With the coming of a new race of man, only a few hundred years ago, the descendants of the first man found their way of life threatened and eventually destroyed. Whereas, it took millions of years for early animal life to adapt to changing environment or be extinguished like the huge reptiles; it took only a few hundred years for native man to develop an entirely new way of life.
Gone are the enormous herds of ‘buffalo’ that once roamed over these valleys and plains. Gone are the bands of wild horses that grazed on these hills and in these valleys. Gone! — is surely as the dinosaurs.
When the first of the new race of men came to this area, they found the buffalo still here in large herds of thousands. They also found the native people riding on horses when traveling or hunting.
Often, these horses had been captured from the bands of wild horses which galloped over our hills and valleys. Some of them were believed to have been descendents of horses brought over to the southern part of our continent by the Spaniards. These wild horses were joined by other escaped ones and multiplied until there were many bands.
Some of them were still here when our first pioneers came to the country. They had developed into a hardy breed, well adapted to this climate and terrain.
When Elvin Edwards came to this country, he saw a band of about 70 wild horses that had just been captured. Cowboys were trying to ‘break’ some for riding. Elvin, being young and looking for excitement, mounted and rode two. That band of wild horses may have been the last of the ‘wild ones’ in this area.