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Abstract

Dayton, Tennessee, the site of the 1925 Scopes evolution trial, is surrounded by a rich natural museum of Paleozoic sedimentary rocks that exemplifies Earth history literacy principles, in accord with those identified in the Next Generation Science Standards. A guide for a loop drive from Chattanooga to Dayton and Sequatchie Valley combines a visit to the site of the trial, analyzing its lessons for science educators, with a tour of sites where, with minimal jargon, evidence for the following principles is demonstrated:

  • Sedimentary structures such as mud cracks and crossbeds record processes similar to those that deposit sediment in modern environments.

  • Strata can be divided into rock units recognized over great distances.

  • Fossils and their modes of preservation document the history of life, and give evidence of past environments.

  • A succession of thousands of feet of sedimentary rock records hundreds of specific changes in sediment supply, water depth, and climatic conditions.

  • The fact that diverse environments near sea level are recorded in great thicknesses of rock is powerful evidence of slow gradual subsidence, as opposed to a single flooding event followed by rapid sedimentation.

  • Recorded changes in sediment supply and water depth provide evidence of the rise and erosion of nearby land, as well as continual moderate fluctuations in sea level.

  • Originally horizontal rock layers have been disturbed in systematic ways traced to specific past plate tectonic events.

  • These concepts were developed, in part, to help find mineral resources, and they prove their predictive value daily, for example, in locating deeply buried petroleum.

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