Did you know that at one point the Memphis area was covered with 100 feet of water?
Approximately 200 million years ago, Earth’s land existed as a giant super continent named Pangaea. At the northern-most edge of the Mid-South, mountains formed where older continents had butted together. This range was the ancient Ouachita-Appalachian system, which transected Pangaea in an east-west arch. After Pangaea began to break up, the central Ouachita-Appalachians and the land surrounding them drifted westward, riding their continental plates. The Reelfoot Rift underwent further faulting and stretching. Magma plutons rose through the old faults uplifting the land again. One theory proposes that the uplift was produced by the area passing over a magma plume hot spot. This action caused the central part of what is now North America to rise as much as 3 kilometers as the pressure of the magma pressed against the continent above.
The formation of the Mississippi Embayment occurred during the Late Cretaceous period (71 million years ago). As North America slid westward and passed the hot spot, the crust cooled and subsided to a depth of more than 3 kilometers. This settling caused an inundation by the Gulf of Mexico over the central part of the continent. This event and the geological traces of it are known as the Mississippi Embayment.
Since the Mid-South was submerged, the area’s fauna included shellfish, lobsters, sharks, plesiosaurs and mosasaurs. Fossils of these and other aquatic life are routinely found at the Coon Creek Science Center, which is a member of the Pink Palace Family of Museums and located in McNairy County, Tennessee. You can read more about the Mississippi Embayment and Coon Creek on the museum’s website.
Caroline Mitchell Carrico works in the Exhibit Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. She has a graduate degree in history from The University of Memphis, and her favorite artifacts are the Cold War civil defense supplies.