Archive: Your House is a Fossil Museum

Or: Kitty Litter Paleontology

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: what's that archaeology team doing in my kitchen?

My watchdog never needs walking.

We usually think of fossils in the context of museums, but you might be surprised to hear that they're probably in your home without you knowing.

The first way this happens is pretty obvious: if you've got limestone as part of the construction of your house. Limestone is almost universally fossil-bearing. In fact, many types of limestone are almost entirely made up of fossils. So, if you have limestone in your house, you've probably got fossils.

Of course, fossils can be found in other rocks as well, such as certain sandstones and mudstones, though limestone is the most common fossil-bearing rock used in construction.

Next is in kitty litter. Bentonite clays are used in countless industrial settings, but they also have one extremely common use inside the home—as the main ingredient of most kitty litter products. Bentonite clay is highly absorbent, making it ideal for this purpose.

Another thing bentonite clay is famous for? Occurring near fossil formations. The Morrison Formation, the geological formation where Dinosaur National Monument is found, is also heavily mined for bentonite clay. There have also been plenty of reports of kitty litter mining companies in Canada knowingly destroying fossil beds for more profit. So... your cat might be doing its business in dinosaur bits.

Third is diatomaceous earth. This fine white powder is frequently used as a cleaning product in the home. Applications of it can kill many types of insect infestations. The actual mechanism by which it does so is a little complicated, but it essentially dehydrates the insects to death. (Sometimes it's also used in kitty litter.) Diatomaceous earth is a sedimentary rock composed entirely of fossilized diatoms, a type of ocean-going microorganism that grows a silica-based shell.

Finally, there's good old-fashioned chalk. Chalk is simply an accumulation of the shells of tiny marine microorganisms, just like diatomaceous earth. Instead of being formed of silica-shelled organisms, however, it's formed out of calcite-shelled organisms known as coccolithophores. (Interestingly, the Cretaceous is actually named after the fact that more chalk was deposited around the world than during any other geological era—not, as you might expect, due to anything to do with dinosaurs.)

So, whenever your kids are drawing on the sidewalk with chalk, they're drawing with fossils.

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Save By Buying

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy describes what's hiding in plain sight, and how we can save money from it.

Click HERE to uncover everything.

Archive: Grounds for Civilization

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: The Magnificent Magnesium Ramp

I'm so thrilled about this week's Yard Ramp Guy blog ⏤ honoring and appreciating history and longevity (and magnesium!) ⏤ that I've bumped my call-out to the top of this entry.

I heartily encourage you to check it out HERE.

A Cup of Java is Good for Us

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: pour yourself a cup of coffee and read this.

Intellectual Coffee

Me, Getting Smarter by the Sip

Fun fact: We have coffee to thank for economics, geology, and countless other scientific and intellectual advancements.

Seventeenth century Scotland was a nasty place in many ways, filled with poverty, disease, and chronic alcoholism—in great part because the water wasn't safe to drink. Raids from highland clans were also a fact of life.

By the eighteenth century, however, things had changed radically. The highland clans were defeated, the economy was looking up, and things were just improving all around.

And then coffee showed up.

All of a sudden, you had something to drink that would neither make you sick, like the water, or drunk, like the ale.

Intellectuals started gathering in social clubs and became massively more productive. Among those intellectuals were Adam Smith, the father of modern economics; James Hutton, the father of modern geology; Robert Burns, one of the greatest English language poets of all time (as well as Scots language poets); Joseph Black, the chemist who discovered magnesium and carbon dioxide; philosopher David Hume; and many more.

What's more, they weren't operating alone. They largely all knew one another. Joseph Black, James Hutton, and Adam Smith were all incredibly close friends.

This was a movement focused on empiricism and reason, and it came to be known as the Scottish Enlightenment.

These changes weren't just limited to Scotland, either. Everywhere coffee traveled, there tended to be increases in productivity, intellectual development, and general economic well-being of a nation (though not necessarily for individual members of a nation.)

Coffee is by no means an unadulterated good in history, especially not at the growing end of the supply chain, but it did radically change history wherever it arrived.

Pretty impressive for a beverage.

Archive: The World is Still Round

But Kansas is Still Flatter Than a Pancake

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: a flat Earth is more like a flat tire...

Quick quiz: When did humanity discover that the Earth is round?

hand holding the earth

Note the Roundness.

If you answered Copernicus or Galileo, you're off by a millennia or two. The Ancient Greeks actually discovered this.

To prove the theory, they created an experiment using two dry wells, hundreds of miles apart. Then, at noon on the same day, the Greeks measured the shadows at the bottom of the well to see if they were at the same angle. When they weren't, they used the difference in angle to figure out the actual size of the Earth…with remarkable accuracy.

(Trigonometry is important, kids. If you don't believe me, just ask Jeff over at The Yard Ramp Guy.)

Okay, another quick quiz: When did humanity forget that the world was round?

I bet the most specific thing you can think of is the Dark Ages or the Fall of Rome, right? Well, both are incorrect: We never forgot.


Careful, buddy.

To quote the brilliant Stephen Jay Gould, "There never was a period of 'flat Earth darkness' among scholars (regardless of how the public at large may have conceptualized our planet both then and now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major medieval scholars accepted the Earth's roundness as an established fact of cosmology."

In fact, we can trace the popularization of the idea that people thought the Earth was flat back to specific historians in the 1800s.

Sadly, this is pretty common stuff when we think about history.

People are swift to assume that their distant ancestors (or at least other people's distant ancestors) were dumber than people today.

It really doesn't take that much effort to realize that idea is wrong, but most people won't even try to put in the effort.

(Really don't believe me? Then let's see you design an aqueduct with pen and paper.)

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Yard Ramps for Forklifts

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy honors both John Henry and forklifts. In my eyes, you can't do much better than that.

Click HERE to witness progress at its finest.

Archive: Roads as History

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: roads are literally, yes, a roadmap of history.

McCoy Fields Roads

Paved with (Good?) Intentions

I write a lot about roads on this blog. The Yard Ramp Guy must think I'm a bit obsessed (though he’d probably phrase it differently).

The study of roads is the study of history. Countless historical events, from the outcomes of wars to international trade, and from religious expansion to the maintenance of nations: they all rely on roads.

Incan roads—not the most extensive network of ancient roads but one of the most technologically impressive—were earthquake-proof with incredibly durable suspension bridges. Roman roads have been receiving acclaim for millennia now, and many are still in use.

Which brings us to ancient Chinese roads.

Under the Qin Dynasty (circa 220 BC), Chinese road networks were considerably more extensive than their Roman contemporaries. One, the Ancient Road of Mules and Horses, was created in 214 BC by an advancing army of the Qin. The Emperor marched a half-million strong army in a straight line on one of his wars of conquest, crushing the earth in its path. They later covered the road in slate, and it remained in use for 2,000 years afterward without changing routes.

Walking up a golden ramp. Kind of.

Walking up a golden ramp. Kind of.

Road maintenance was key in holding onto territory in China. Later dynasties, like the Han, went to great pains to maintain this and other roads, building hostels and post offices along their lengths. Another Qin road was immensely long, built to service border forts along a huge wall that predated the Great Wall.

My favorite ancient road of all, though, is the Stone Cattle Road. One of the ancestors of the First Qin Emperor wanted to conquer the nearby Shu kingdom to the south, over the Qinling Mountains. He had his sculptors and artisans carve five life-sized stone cows and decorate their tails and hindquarters with gold.

When the king of Shu received news of them, he asked the Qin king to send him a herd. The Qin king claimed that he would need a gallery road (built of wooden planks imbedded in the sides of cliffs) across the mountains to move the cows. The Shu king not only permitted it; he also helped fund the construction.

Yes, we know how this story develops: The first thing the Qin king brought over wasn't a herd of gold-depositing cattle. He brought an army.

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Business Advantages

This week my friend The Yard Ramp Guy shows how buying his inventory can save you money.

Click HERE for his simple suggestions to make that happen.

Archives: Of a Certain Age

My good friend Jeff Mann, the true Yard Ramp Guy, has asked me to revisit some of my original posts. This week in my From the Archives series: if it smelts fishy, it could be the remnants of the Stone Age. Or Bronze. Or Iron.

ape2-300x168We’ve heard of the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. And yet, we aren't commonly taught why those ages occurred in that order. Which is just too bad, since it's pretty darn interesting.

The Stone Age has a simple explanation. Stone is easier to work than metal, and more common. We figured out how to use it first.

Ancient humans actually did master use of some metal during this time period — namely meteoric iron, a natural alloy of nickel and iron present in iron meteorites. We sometimes heated it but more often shaped it, by cold hammering, into tools and arrowheads; the stuff was quite difficult to work.

The ancient Inuit inhabitants of Greenland, though, used iron much more extensively than other Stone Age people. Greenland has the world's only major deposit of telluric iron, also called native iron, which is iron that occurs in its pure metal state.

Looking for the right tool to advance our evolution

Native copper, however, is found worldwide (as are native gold, silver, and platinum, all of which are of limited use for tools.) The hardest and strongest common native metal on Earth, copper proved one of the most useful.

Eventually we learned to smelt metals from ore and, around 2500 BC, learned to alloy the two together to make bronze, kicking off The Bronze Age. Tin was somewhat rare outside the British Isles, parts of China, and South Africa, so it actually ended up commanding prices higher than gold in many regions. We frequently used zinc, more common than tin, to produce brass.

Iron smelting first occurred circa 1800 BC but didn't become common until 1200 BC. Eventually, of course, iron became the metal of choice for civilization—it's just much stronger than most of the other options.

Yard Ramp Guy Blog: Bracing for the Elements

This week, my friend The Yard Ramp Guy shows us how he's long been prepared for weather-related events.

Click HERE to discover a textbook-perfect example of being proactive.