Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Geologic Time The Story of a Changing Earth
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The Mississippian
Life in the Seas
Tetrapods and Other Life on Land
Mississippian Tectonics and Climate
Mississippian brachiopods
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Mississippian 359–323 mya
Defining Characteristics:
Secondary Characteristics:
  • • formation of supercontinents

In 1869, American geologist Alexander Winchell coined the name Mississippian in 1869 for rock outcrops along the drainage basin of the Mississippi River. He distinguished these limestone-rich Lower Carboniferous rock layers from the coal-bearing beds of the Upper Carboniferous (or Pennsylvanian). Because these two sets of rocks are easily distinguished in North America, the terms Mississippian Epoch and Pennsylvanian Epoch are commonly used by American geologists and paleontologists. This distinction was less clearly marked in Europe, and the names Lower and Upper Carboniferious were widely used. The European subdivision of the Carboniferous has now been formally replaced by Mississippian and Pennsylvanian by the International Commission on Stratigraphy.

The Mississippian world was rather uniformly warm, although yet another ice age began toward the end. As more continents began to collide, extensive mountain-building occurred. The tropical seas were home to a great diversity of marine life, including many different kinds of fishes, brachiopods, bryozoans, mollusks, and echinoderms. On land, a major habitat division began between seed plants, which preferred drier habitats and the lycopsids (club mosses), which preferred wetter places. There were also the first significant radiations of terrestrial tetrapods and winged insects. In the Pennsylvanian, vast coal swamps would form, the feature for which the Carboniferous Period was named.


Overview | Life in the Seas | Tetrapods and Other Life on Land
Mississippian Tectonics and Climate

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