Saturday, February 24, 2024

PBS Terra explains 'How An Ancient Ocean Shaped US History'

As I wrote yesterday, "I'm planning on writing posts with a longer shelf life than the daily or weekly news cycle for the rest of this month." In that vein, I'm sharing PBS Terra's How An Ancient Ocean Shaped US History.

From ancient seas to fertile soils, evolutionary biologist Shane Campbell-Staton explores the remarkable journey that transformed the Cretaceous coastline into the fertile “Black Belt” region of the American South. He joins oceanographer Craig McClain, professor Sven Beckert, and geneticist Steven Micheletti to learn how millions of years of deposits shaped the events of Black American history.
A lesson I teach my geology students is how the underlying rocks and sediments influence how humans use the landscape. The example I use involves stranded shorelines when lake levels were higher during the terminal Pleistocene here in metro Detroit. People like to site cemeteries and parks on them, particularly the shoreline of Lake Whittlesey, map below.

My explanation is that these ancient beaches are elevated benches of sand that are relatively easy to excavate, wide enough for cemeteries, and provide good views. The first two are practical considerations, while I think the last is cultural. We may fancy that the dead would like a vista, but it's really for the living.

I drive this lesson home the Saturday before Halloween, when I lead a field trip past all these cemeteries, calling it a Halloween Graveyard Tour, that ends at a local cider mill. Students enjoy it, as long as they don't get lost, which does happen. I plan on adding addresses and GPS coordinates to the landmarks for future trips so my students stay on course. That's not exactly what I had in mind by incorporating technology into my teaching, but welcome to meeting my students where they are in third decade of the 21st Century.

All of that pales in comparison with the journey through time and space that Shane Campbell-Staton took his viewers through. It shows how connected history, economy, culture, and politics are to the Earth on a scale that dwarfs my example from the end of the Pleistocene to today. It also reminds me of my favorite William Faulkner quote, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” Faulkner was a Southerner, so he was in a position to know, but even he had no idea how the deep past from the time of the dinosaurs still hasn't died and is still with us.

Stay tuned for the final Sunday entertainment feature of February. I could still compile a highlights post of tonight's Saturday Night Live, but I'll see if I'm feeling it tomorrow. If not, I might continue covering the Oscar nominees as I promised in '20 Days in Mariupol' and 'The ABCs of Book Banning' leading documentary nominees according to Gold Derby or revisit My Saturn Awards votes for National Science Fiction Day 2024. Return tomorrow to find out.

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