Under Oklahoma’s Ancient Tides

Number three in my reconstruction series for the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History is a painting I’m calling Undersea Oklahoma With Giant Crinoids. Oklahoma was once awash beneath a huge inland ocean, and we have some very cool fossils to prove it. One of those is a long-stemmed crinoid with a ten-foot stem, the longest ever found (Sam Noble also has the very grand articulated skeleton of the largest Apatosaurus ever found, and a Pentacerotops with the largest skull- and presumably the largest neck muscles- in the world). All of these were found right here in our fair state. stem.jpg

This champion crinoid lived 300 million years ago during the Pennsylvanian Period and its fossilized stem was found in Tulsa county. Crinoids are Echinoderms, invertebrate animals not plants, and have modern descendents commonly known as “sea lillies”. They are related to starfish and sea urchins. They don’t get all that big anymore, so a ten-footer is pretty awesome, not to mention extinct. The painting will have the fossil stem mounted to its surface, and I’ll recreate the feathery fronds two-dimensionally in acrylic paint (with fronds like that, who needs anemones?).

To start my painting, I needed a model. I found any number of photos of modern and fossil crinoids, and looked at fossil specimens at the museum as well. I love visiting the Paleontology department. It’s delightful just standing by as the curator rummages through the drawers and picks out a particularly handsome specimen for me to admire.

crinoidcalyxmeasured.jpgTo make the obvious kid-in-the-candy-store comparison, it’s like going through cabinets filled with big trays of luscious chocolates and very cleverly shaped sweets. Mmmmmm- trilobites- rrrrrrrr!
Tomorrow: model-making made simple.

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