Photo: Katherine Armstrong
Indiana is one of only a handful of states without a state fossil, but a new bill is hoping to change that.
State senators Mark Stoops of Bloomington and Philip Boots of Crawfordsville have authored a bill that would name the Elegantocrinus hemisphaericus as Indiana’s official state fossil. More commonly known as the elegant sea lily, the fossil looks like a plant, but is actually the fossilized remains of a crinoid, or small sea animal that resembles a starfish on a stalk.
Indiana University paleontologist David Polly says the fossil plays an especially important role in Indiana’s history.
“I think this a really nice choice because it was found in Indiana, it’s from a site that made Indiana really famous in paleontological circles, it is a kind of fossil that people can find almost everywhere in the state,” Polly says.
The sea lily was first discovered in Crawfordsville, a paleontological site that became famous for the variety, beauty and integrity of its fossils.
“The district that I represent, which is part of Montgomery County, is essentially known as the “World Capital of the Crinoid,” says Sen. Boots.
Sea lilies (and many other crinoids) still exist in oceans today, but the fossils found in Indiana date from the Paleozoic Era, hundreds of millions of years ago. Most of Indiana’s fossils were once animals that swam through the warm, shallow sea covering the state during that time.
“Indiana was essentially underwater at the time,” says Booths “I doubt most people recognize that fact, so I think designating a state fossil would create a recognition of that, an awareness that there was a different time and there were different circumstances in the state’s history.”
The fossil has significance to Sen. Stoops’ district as well.
“It actually is an interesting choice for a state fossil, especially as it relates to Bloomington and Monroe County,” says Stoops, who explains crinoid fossils can be found in abundance in the limestone from the area’s world-famous quarries. “Any kid that walks down a creek and sees all the little fossil, it helps intensify an interest in the science and history of our area”
Unfortunately, the senators recently received some disheartening news about the bill.
“The bill has been assigned to rules, and that’s usually the death knoll for any bill,” Boots says. “I can’t say it’s going to get a hearing.”
Even though Boots admits it’s not the most important issue the legislature will hear, he still remains hopeful.
“It has a basis for consideration,” Boots says. “I hope we get something done.”