Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



White paper/Report, issued September 2017.


© By the author, September 2017


When the weather is good (and even sometimes when it isn’t) I occasionally walk around the periphery of the UNL city campus, often over the lunch hour, now that the trails and the sidewalks allow one to walk a complete circuit. The walk along Antelope Creek from the Big X to Q Street is beautiful. The designers of the project made nice art works on the floor of the creek and on the retaining walls on the valley sides that add to the beauty of nature.

I am a geologist and wondered about some of the art and its meaning because it looks in many respects to have been derived from things that can be seen in road-cuts and natural exposures in parts of eastern Nebraska. Curious about the meaning, I went for help to people who had worked on the project. Mary Anne Wells, Senior Project Landscape Architect, was very helpful and explained that the design team wanted to add some interest to the wall and used a “wave” pattern to look like the rolling hills of eastern Nebraska or like a soil profile close up. Three different textures and earth-tone colors were used on the panels to give them rock- or soil-like appearances. Construction on the Big T (now Big X) was started in 2005. The mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) walls at the center of the ”X” are about 35 feet tall and the cladding is made of concrete panels about four-feet eight inches wide by four-feet ten inches high (Fig. 2).

Mary Anne further explained that leaf patterns from native trees (maple, cottonwood, and oak) were used in the central group of panels and that Nebraska invertebrate fossils were used in the lower group. These fossil invertebrate forms (brachiopod, bivalve, and cephalopod shells) were selected by Dr. R. Matthew Joeckel of UNL. No organisms are depicted on the upper group of panels (Figs. 3 and 4).

My thought when first looking at the arrangement of three layers with fossils, leaves, and invertebrate shells was that these images were illustrating the local geology exposed in the area in road cuts and natural exposures. The upper layer might represent Quaternary deposits that generally cover the bedrock; the middle layer Cretaceous bedrock, which in eastern Nebraska contains fossil leaf imprints at some sites; and the lower layer Pennsylvanian bedrock ocean deposits that contain shells of fossils including brachiopods, bivalves and cephalopods (Figs. 3 and 4). Mary Anne’s explanation above disabused me of these ideas, but the depicted layers and artistic depictions of parts of organisms in a natural geologic arrangement started me thinking of how a thought experiment using the art might allow me to get those who read this work and then looked at the art to learn some basic geological principles and some basic local geology. That way readers might be able to apply those principles in the future to interpret the geological past, at least in a general way when they see exposed strata (layers of rock) at other places.