Ancient Seas

The water and sea basins we know today have been on Earth for much longer than the first humans. Clues from the ocean (in the form of seafloor or ice cores, and fossils) can help us learn about how the oceans reached their current state.

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A rendering of an underwater marine scene from the Cambrian Period, featuring an arthropod, annelids, and other animals.

DIVE DEEPER

A Collection of Cambrian Fossils

When you're standing in a museum surrounded by fossils, you can almost imagine drifting through time to when long-extinct...

Evolution of Whales Animation

Whales have existed for million of years. Watch this animation, from the Sant Ocean Hall , to see how they evolved from land-dwellers to the animals we know today. Discover more about whale evolution...
Color illustration of an ancient bivalve.

Rudist Reefs

About 100 million years ago, during the heyday of the dinosaurs , reefs were built by mollusks called rudist clams . They looked very different from today's coral reefs . Discover more about the...
A rendering of an underwater marine scene depicting life ~145-65 million years ago, when rudist clams were the major reef builders.

Long Before Coral, Mollusks Built the Ocean's Reefs

Rudist clams were major reef builders during the heyday of dinosaurs. Credit: Smithsonian Institution About 100 million years ago , during the heyday of the dinosaurs, reefs were built by mollusks called rudist clams...
Photograph of the model of a Giant Megatooth Shark, taken from the front..

Shark Ancestors

Long before great white sharks appeared, much larger ancestors roamed the ocean. This giant ancient shark -- the Giant Megatooth ( Carcharodon megalodon ) -- was probably big enough to eat a whale.
Foraminifera

Foraminifera

Microscopic, single-celled organisms called foraminifera have a fossil record that extends from today to more than 500 million years ago. Although each foram is just a single cell, they build complex shells around themselves...

Foraminifera on the Seafloor

Dr. Karen Bice studies the foraminifera in ocean sediment to better understand climate change. More about scientists studying world climate change can be found in our Climate Change featured story .

Dr. Jan Backman, Marine Geologist

Drilling near the North Pole, Dr. Jan Backman reveals a brief moment in time when the Arctic was subtropical. More about world climate change can be found in our Climate Change featured story .

Smithsonian Paleobiologist Brian Huber

Brian Huber studies fossil organisms known as “ forams ” to learn about climate change in this video snippet from the Smithsonian Marine Collections video . More about world climate change can be found...
Smithsonian Scientists Dig a Trench Around a squalodontid Skull

Expedition to Excavate a Fossil Whale

The first thing the researchers did when they arrived on site was outline the general excavation area and take careful measurements of exposed fossils. Next, they applied acrylic glue to any exposed bone to...
Smithsonian researchers eat a meal in preparation for a fossil excavation

At STRI, No Whales Yet, But There Are Fossil Sea Cows...

Before heading out to the fossil locality in Piña, Panama on the Caribbean coast, the team of researchers have a full breakfast at a cantina by the side of the road: roasted chicken, plantains,...
Smithsonian researchers eat a meal in preparation for a fossil excavation

A Squalodontid Success

On a beach in Piña, Panama the tide is rolling out. Faint outlines of skeletal remains rise above the sand. Smithsonian scientists Nicholas Pyenson and Aaron O'Dea along with a team of students descend...

Excavating an Extinct Toothed Whale

A time-lapse video shows researchers from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute racing to excavate the fossil of an extinct toothed whale on a beach in Piña, Panama...
Smithsonian scientists race the tide the excavate an ancient whale fossil entombed in rock

Fossil Whale Found, Excavated, Jacketed, and Returned to STRI!

A time-lapse video of the excavation of an extinct toothed whale on a Panamanian beach. Jorge and I packed up the night we arrived in Panama with Aaron O'Dea and his team from STRI...

Submersible Collects Deep-Sea Corals

Come along as scientist Dr. Brendan Roark narrates a submersible dive to collect and study deep-sea corals. Roark studies deep-sea corals to understand the history of the ocean and past ocean climates. Learn more...
two men each hold a ceramic vessel at the archaeological ex

Archaeologists Study Early Whaling Community in Quebec, Canada

For over a decade, Smithsonian's Arctic Studies Center archaeologist, William Fitzhugh, has been investigating an early European whaling site at Hare Harbor in Québec, Canada . The site has revealed important contact and trading...
Offshore Peru, during the Eocene (~56-34 million years ago), showing two archaeocetes (ancient whales): Ocucajea picklingi and Supayacetus muizon.

New Archaeocetes from Peru Are the Oldest Fossil Whales from South America

Offshore Peru, during the Eocene (~56-34 million years ago), showing two archaeocetes (ancient whales): Ocucajea picklingi (above) and Supayacetus muizoni (below). Credit: Carl Buell, http://carlbuell.com The evolution of whales represents one of the great...
An artistic rendering of an ocean landscape as it may have looked during the Archean Eon.

The Ocean Throughout Geologic Time, An Image Gallery

Evidence shows that life probably began in the ocean at least 3.5 billion years ago. Photosynthesis began more than 2.5 billion years ago—the Great Oxidation Event. But it took hundreds of millions of years...
A photo of the cliffs at Mistaken Point, in Newfoundland

Ediacaran Fossils: One Species at a Time

When the cod fishery collapsed in Newfoundland in the early 1990s, the hopes of the local fish harvesters collapsed with it. Hundreds of Newfoundlanders moved away and businesses that depended on the cod fishery...

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