By Anna Valmero
MANKIND has long been fascinated with time travel, fantasizing about machines that will transport us to the past. However, one need not wait for these futuristic inventions because within our reach are tools that can serve as windows to the past: fossils.
Yes, the fossil is a time machine.
According to fossil collector Larry Gotauco, fossils are preserved matter or impressions from prehistoric animal or plant life — parts of the organism or its excrements such as plant sap or dinosaur dung.
“Unlike rocks which are non-living records of time, fossils were life preserved in stone,” he said.
In general, an organism is fossilized when it is rapidly buried to prevent organic decay. Minerals gradually seep into the cell structure of the buried plant or animal matter and over millions of years, turn them into stone. Often, hard structures — animal’s bone, teeth, shell or tree stump — are fossilized. In rare occasions, soft body parts get preserved as in the case of insects inside amber and mammoths in ice.
It was a piece of petrified wood that sparked Gotauco’s interest to learn more about fossils and eventually collect them. Upon learning the wood is over 200 million years old and has existed during the Triassic Period when early dinosaurs roamed the earth, he said it was as if holding a “piece of eternity” in his hands.
He said it was then that he developed his infatuation with petrified wood and fossilized dinosaur parts.
According to the 75-year-old collector, the greatest concentrations of petrified wood are in the United States, Madagascar, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Burma, Australia, Brazil and China.
In the Philippines, petrified wood can be found in Metro Manila and Central Luzon because of the volcanic history of Mount Pinatubo as well as in Bicol where Mount Mayon is located.
Gotauco wrote in his book “Jurrasic Fossils: Wood and Dinosaur” that the universality of petrified wood supports Pangaea, a supercontinent from 250 million years ago, which broke and drift apart to form the continents we knew today.
In the Philippines, Palawan and Mindoro are the oldest land masses, being once part of mainland China and existing before the Philippine archipelago rose from the sea. This makes the Philippines relatively young in terms of geologic age as compared to other land masses,” he said.
Aside from age, Gotauco said color adds beauty to fossils. He said these colors show the different minerals that fill up the pores or spaces in the fossil.
Teeth and claws are rare fossils but not colorful, unlike dinosaur bones and poop (coprolites) which form much of Gotauco’s collection.
Scientists use the colors of the coprolites to tell if it came from a dinosaur that ate meat or plant.
“For me, I let my imagination run wild and actually, see images such as pizza with cheese from the dinosaur’s personal belonging,” he said.
“When I hold a piece of my collection, I know that things did not just begin with a shazam. And I am sharing this collection because I believe they can open one’s eyes and stir one’s soul, as they did mine,” Gotauco said.
Over 10 years as fossil collector, Gotauco makes available his accumulated photos from fossil collections of fellow enthusiasts on his website. Some of his collection is on exhibit at the Ayala Museum until end of November. A free lecture will be held on October 18, the first was on October 11.