Maine’s State Geologist shows evidence of ancient life in the State House

No, it isn’t the legislators
A 450+ million year old snail-like mollusk on the 3rd floor of the State House
A 450+ million year old snail-like mollusk on the 3rd floor of the State House(wabi)
Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 4:46 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) -Maine’s State Geologist, Robert Marvinney is retiring at the end of June after holding the position for 26 years. He says during that time he has occasionally been asked about some unusual looking flooring inside the Maine State House.

The State House is an imposing structure with massive granite pillars quarried in nearby Hallowell and artifacts of the State’s history on display inside.

But look closer and you’ll find some strange spirals and other shapes standing out against the dark limestone which borders the white marble flooring.

“450 million year old organisms, right there in the floor.”

Marvinney says the fossil-bearing stones were quarried in northern Vermont, which has a similar geologic history to Maine.

“A shallow sea occupied that area we now call Vermont, but it was south of the equator.”

The fossils are hundreds of millions of years older than the first dinosaurs.

“Nowhere in Maine will you find dinosaur fossils. We just don’t have the right rocks.”

What you will find is evidence of ancient marine life from a geologic period known as the Ordovician.

“Snails and corals and crinoids. They were prolific in that environment.”

Crinoids are related to things like starfish and sea cucumbers, but they looked more like plants. You can find fragments of their long stems.

“The fossil is three-dimensional, but we’re only going to see the two-dimensional cross sections.”

You have to use your imagination to see the full creature, but geologists like Marvinney can gather useful data from rocks like these.

“We can look at how climate has changed over the eons and understand more about the context of current climate change.”

The Maine State House is open to the public again with COVID precautions, so you can go on your own fossil hunt. Most of them are easy to find.

“That was all intentional, putting these slabs in front of doorways.”

You can also read more about the fossils in an article on the Legislature’s website.

Marvinney says he’s enjoyed working alongside other state employees and is looking forward to retirement confident in the future.

“I was able to hire excellent talent, and it will carry our programs forward for many years”

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