the Tertiary - 65 to 1.8 Million Years Ago

World Paleogeography: During the Tertiary, the last phase of the breakup of Pangea was accompanied by several continental collisions. North America and Greenland split from each other and from Europe, while Arabia was rifting away from Africa. These continental movements also formed the Gulf of Mexico, the African Rift Valley, and the Red Sea, while rifting in Japan opened the Sea of Japan. Elsewhere, multiple small terranes and continents collided, resulting in several mountain chains that we know today, such as the Pyrenees, Alps, and Zagros Mountains. The largest and fastest collision brought India crashing into Southeast Asia, forming the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau. The multitude of continental collisions raised high mountains and resulted in lower sea levels around the world, causing shifting climates throughout the Tertiary.

North American Paleogeography: As sea level dropped, the inland sea that covered much of North America during the Cretaceous withdrew. Grasslands, large lakes, and small mountain ranges covered the central and western states until tectonic changes occurred on the western margin. Rapid uplift in the west created the modern North American Cordilleran in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, eroded much of the ancestral Sierra Nevada, and generated volcanism that helped form its modern equivalent. Fossils indicate a warm-temperate to subtropical climate in the Early Tertiary of North America. Later in the period, the climate cooled significantly, and many of the warm-weather organisms disappeared from the fossil record in North America. This pattern was repeated with another warming trend followed by a much colder climate in the Late Tertiary.

Paleontology: The extinction at the end of the Cretaceous opened numerous ecological niches. These were filled mostly by mammals, which underwent a dramatic evolutionary radiation. By the Late Tertiary, North America was home to mastodons, ground sloths, armadillos, camels, horses, saber tooth cats, giant wolves, giant beavers, and giant bears.

Tertiary seas would have looked fairly familiar to us: gastropods and bivalves were very similar to modern forms. Squid replaced the ammonites, which died out at the end of the Cretaceous. Sea urchins and single-celled foraminifera continued to be abundant, but new forms appeared. Sharks and bony fishes were common.

North America Today

The glaciers that swept down over the northern states in the Quaternary have removed many of the Tertiary deposits in North America. In other places around the continent, exposures of Tertiary rocks are very common. Large exposures can be found in the U.S. along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, Great Basin, Cascade Mountains, and Olympic Peninsula. Tertiary exposures are also bundant in Western Mexico and the Yucatan, as well as in several western Canadian provinces.

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Links to more about the Tertiary

Careers | Organizations | Education and Exhibits | Research and Collections | Resources


Degree and Certificate Programs (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Montana State University- Earth Sciences: Train to be a paleontologist in the MSU Undergraduate and Graduate Paleontology Programs. The Earth Sciences Department at MSU caters to both paleobiology and taphonomy interests.

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Societies and Clubs (showing 1 of 1 listings)

North Dakota Geological Survey Fossil Resource Program: Links to all varieties of information on North Dakota paleontology, including research papers, museums, and background information on the state's fossils.

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Parks (showing 3 of 9 listings)

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument: Layers of sediments have preserved an exquisite world class assemblage of Pliocene fossils in this national park.

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument: The official National Park Service site has information on when and how to get to the monument, what to see and do, camping and lodging, as well as maps and books for sale.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument: This official site of the National Park Service has information on the rocks and fossils at the monument, as well as information on how and when to get there, fossil images, and educational resources.

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Museums (showing 3 of 10 listings)

University of Alaska Museum of the North--Arctic Dinosaurs and More: This is the principal natural history museum of Alaska and the Arctic. It features collections & exhibits of Arctic dinosaurs, Quaternary mammals, including unequaled mummified remains,Teriary and Mesozoic collections of mollusks. 

Mayborn Museum Complex, Waco, TX: The Mayborn Museum is the home of one of the oldest natural history collections in Texas. Once part of the Strecker Museum, the collection is now displayed as part of the Mayborn’s Waco at the Crossroads of Texas exhibits. These exhibits explore the Mesozoic and Cenozoic Eras in Central Texas and feature amazing fossil finds from the area including a plesiosaur and a 75 million year old marine turtle. The Mayborn also offers the only way to experience the internationally known Waco Mammoth Site, the world’s largest concentration of Columbian mammoths dying from a single event. The Waco Mammoth Site exhibit includes original casts of the fossils, video, and exploration stations. With something for everyone, the Mayborn is a must see for anyone interested paleontology, mammoths, or just the unique history of Central Texas.

The Cooper Channel: From the Dr. John D. Cooper Center Archaeological and Paleontological Center, comes the Cooper Channel. A channel dedicated to producing educational shows for all ages that focus on Orange County paleontology and archaeology.

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Colleges and Universities (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Stony Brook University Vertebrate Fossil Preparation Laboratory: Information on the people and research projects at Stony Brook University; also includes general information on fossil preparation techniques.

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Government Agencies (showing 3 of 4 listings)

Calvert Cliffs Fossils- Maryland Geological Survey: Hosted by the Maryland Geological Survey, this page and its links provide detailed information on the geology and fossils of the park, including fossil identification guides, references, maps, and publications.

Delaware Geological Survey: This Geological Survey site has pages on the fossils, and dinosaurs, of Delaware.

Dr. John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center: The Dr. John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center is dedicated to preserving the natural and cultural history of Orange County, California. The Cooper Center, a partnership between O.C. Parks and California State University Fullerton, is committed to the preservation, curation, and management of the fossils and artifacts collected within the County.

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Education and Exhibits

Events and Programs (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Pony Express: This Florida Museum of Natural History program promotes the study of fossil horses through research, fieldwork, education, and public involvement.

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Physical Exhibits (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Hall of Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life and Land: Drawing upon the museum's internationally acclaimed fossil collections, this exhibit encapsulates the last 65 million years of Earth's history.

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Virtual Exhibits (showing 3 of 14 listings)

Localities of the Eocene: The Green River Formation: Visit this exhibit for more information on the rocks, fossils, and history of research of the Green River Formation, including references. Explore other exhibits on the UC Museum of Paleontology site to find out about the Tertiary period and the animals that lived during that time.

Sabertooths!: This page by the UC Museum of Paleontology discusses saber-toothed carnivores. It offers details on examples from two different geological periods: Smilodon, from the Pleistocene-aged La Brea Tar Pits, and the Oligocene-aged Hoplophoneus.

Fossil Horses in Cyberspace: Learn about paleontology and evolution by exploring the rich fossil record of horses. Discover what's in a name, tales told by toes, stratigraphy, geological time scales and amazing facts about many types of fossil horses.

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Research and Collections

Researchers (showing 3 of 4 listings)

Florissant Paleontology Collections Database: This database website includes information and photographs for more than 5000 of the published specimens of late Eocene plants and insects from the world-renowned site at Florissant, Colorado. The website allows the user to search the museum collections, the taxonomic placement of the fossils, and the bibliography of references. It is maintained by the National Park Service.

University of Iowa Paleontology Repository: The UI Paleontology Repository is home to over a million fossils from all over the world and from all time periods, and is used for research and teaching. We also provide education services, hands-on tours around the collections and geology exhibits for schools and community groups, and fossil identification and collection care services.

University of Kansas Paleobotanical Collection: Collection of fossil plants currently housed at the University of Kansas.

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Ongoing Research Projects (showing 3 of 10 listings)

Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History: On the campus of the University of Oklahoma in Norman. One of the finest university-based museums in the nation, with an active Paleontology research program and extensive collections. 

Database of the Former British Petroleum Microfossil Collection at the NHM, London: In 1991 BP donated to The Natural History Museum their Micropalaeontological Collection. This collection has an extensive geographical and stratigraphic coverage and is a record of BP’s exploration activity since the 1950s.

The database hold details of material from over 3,500 individual well runs. The collection includes micropalaeontological assemblage slides and residues; palynological slides and residues and nannofossil slides from wells and outcrop from over 120 countries world-wide.

The Former Aberystwyth Microfossil Collection: This on-line catalogue is designed for university academics and industrial micropalaeontologists who are interested in post Palaeozoic ostracods and foraminifera. Searching this database gives broad information about discrete collections within the Former Aberystwyth University Micropalaeontology Collection that is now housed at the NHM.

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Courses and Lectures (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Paleogeography of the Southwestern U.S.: The paleogeography of the southwestern U.S. from 1.8 billion years ago to 10 million years ago. Text and images by Dr. Ron Blakey from Northern Arizona University.

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Field Guides (showing 3 of 11 listings)

Green River Paleobotany Project: This site is geared towards amateurs and professionals who collect fossil plants from the Parachute Creek Member of the Green River Formation in Colorado and Utah. The site provides an identification guide for more than 250 species of fossil plants and encourages collectors to submit images of their own fossils if they think they have found a new species.

Fossils At Red Rock Canyon State Park, California: This site is devoted to the paleontology, geology, and natural history of Red Rock Canyon State Park, California; many images of fossils, scenic images of the park, plus images of wildflowers.

The Sharktooth Hill Bone Bed, Southern California: Take a virtual field trip to the classic Sharktooth Hill fossil bone bed northeast of Bakersfield, California; includes text, images of fossils, on-site images and paleontology links.

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Databases (showing 3 of 7 listings)

UF Vertebrate Paleontology Databases: On-line, searchable databases of over 200,000 specimens in the collection of the Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville.

New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Web-based Paleo-database Home Page: Search the fossil collections of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Listings by Kingdom down to species, era, epoch, group, formation, country, New Mexico county, and map ID. Many listings contain images of the fossils (including all holotypes.) 

Neogene Marine Biota of Tropical America: NMITA is an online biotic database containing images and data for taxa used in analyses of Tropical American Biodiversity over the past 25 million years. NMITA is designed for use in research and education in systematics and evolutionary paleontology. Major fossil groups included are bryozoans, corals, molluscs, ostracodes, and fish. Users may browse or search images and information about taxa or click on maps and stratigraphic columns for faunal lists for specific horizons. NMITA also provides several educational activities.  

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Annotated Bibliographies (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Bibliography of Paleobotany: A bibliographic database of paleobotany including more than 56,000 entries. It also includes references on Antarctic geology and paleontology and citations on Women in Science.

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Maps (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Paleogeography and Geologic Evolution of North America: The images presented here show the paleogeography of North America over the last 550 million years of geologic history.

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Image Collections (showing 2 of 2 listings)

Fossils From The Savage Canyon Formation, Nevada: Images of fossil leaves and insect from the famous middle Miocene Savage Canyon Formation, Nevada.

Fossil Giant Sequoia Foliage From Nevada: Image of the youngest fossil foliage of giant sequoia yet discovered, with explanatory text.

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History of Paleontology (showing 1 of 1 listings)

The Bone Feud: The Bone Feud is a novel about the fossil feud between paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and O.C. Marsh in the 1870s. It's a fictionalized but well-researched and entertaining take on the story, and is quite suitable for young adults.

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General Reference (showing 3 of 4 listings)

Fossils From The Kettleman Hills, California: The 4.5 to 2.0 million-year-old Pliocene-age fossils that occur in the Kettleman Hills, roughly 80 miles northwest of Bakersfield, California.

Fossils In Death Valley National Park: The paleontology, geology and natural wonders of Death Valley National Park (and more); many images of fossils; field trips; paleontology links, plus links to Death Valley.

List of Dinosaurs: This dinosaur listing is data-packed and can be sorted by dinosaur length, weight, time period, etc.

More General Reference

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