Local educators push for state honor for armored mud balls

  • Jurassic armored mud balls can be found on the side of this rock at Greenfield Community College. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Geologist and GCC Professor Emeritus Richard Little speaks about Jurassic armored mud balls to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight during a hearing at the State House in Boston on Tuesday. SCREENSHOT

Staff Writer
Published: 10/25/2023 5:18:05 PM
Modified: 10/25/2023 5:16:43 PM

BOSTON — Experts from Amherst College and Greenfield Community College advocated for Jurassic armored mud balls to become the state’s “official sedimentary structure” during a legislative hearing on Tuesday, with the deadline for written testimony coming up on Friday.

Passage of H.3129, which is sponsored by Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, would certify the rare geological formation as the state’s “official sedimentary structure.” Geologist and GCC Professor Emeritus Richard Little was joined virtually by Amherst College Beneski Museum of Natural History educators Fred Venne and James Knowlton to pitch this to the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight during Tuesday’s hearing at the State House’s Gardner Auditorium.

Jurassic armored mud balls, consisting of dark, lithified shale surrounded by pebbles, were first discovered by Little in 1970 within “the Jurassic sandstone cable anchors of a now-dismantled suspension bridge over the Connecticut River between Turners Falls and Gill.” His research revealed that the mud balls formed around 200 million years ago after chunks of sticky mud eroded and rolled into a streambed, picking up pebbles before being covered by stream deposits.

Little documented the mud balls in the Journal of Geology in 1982. Since then, there have been eight instances of mud ball formation identified in Franklin County. They are “definitely” the only lithified specimens observable internationally, according to Little.

Little has been pushing for the state to designate them as the official sedimentary structure of Massachusetts since 2020. He previously recalled being inspired by the work of state Rep. Jack Lewis, whose advocacy led to the official recognition of “the swift-footed lizard of Holyoke” as Massachusetts’ state dinosaur. If the state was willing to designate an official dinosaur, perhaps they would be willing to recognize a geological phenomenon “even rarer than dinosaurs,” he reasoned.

Little made his enthusiasm clear at Tuesday’s hearing, donning a Jurassic armored mud ball-themed baseball cap and T-shirt as he spoke to the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight in Boston. He explained how a mud ball is formed while holding up a preserved sheet of rock containing the structures.

“Yes, they have a funny name and it’s OK to have a good laugh at that, but … it makes a lot of sense to celebrate these unique features,” Little reasoned during Tuesday’s hearing.

Venne and Knowlton joined the hearing from the Beneski Museum via video call. In addition to showing his museum’s mud ball sample on camera, Venne held up a caramel apple as an analogy, equating the nuts adhering to its sticky surface to how a mud ball adhered to pebbles. He also explained that the mud balls can help scientists better understand climate change across history.

“It’s a paleoclimate indicator, which is kind of an amazing thing,” Venne told the committee.

Reps. Natalie Blais, Sean Garballey, Christopher Hendricks, Carmine Lawrence Gentile, Aaron Saunders and Jack Lewis are listed as petitioners supporting bill H.3129. Little also credited Sen. Paul Mark for being one of the bill’s “active supporters.”

Those interested in providing written testimony in support of the bill are encouraged to do so by emailing Jordan Latham, research and communications director for the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, at jordan.latham@mahouse.gov, or Haley Dillon, the Senate’s legislative director and deputy chief of staff, at haley.dillon@masenate.gov by 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 27. There is no date yet scheduled for state Legislature to make a decision on the bill.

More information on Jurassic armored mud balls can be found at armoredmudballs.rocks.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy