Reflections on the Life and Contributions of Dr. Everett H. Lindsay, Verebrate Paleontologist
Thoughts from Bob Butler, who worked closely with Ev as a colleague in Geosciences
Everett H. Lindsay was known as “Ev Lindsay” to his U of A Geoscience colleagues and as “Doc” to his students and close collaborators. In the geochronology research community, Ev Lindsay became known as a pioneer of magnetostratigraphy applied to vertebrate paleontology. He was the first vertebrate paleontologist to realize that magnetostratigraphic studies of stratigraphic sections containing key fossil localities could provide geochronologic calibration of land mammal ages. In turn, the improved geochronology of land mammal ages greatly refined knowledge of rates and modes of mammalian evolution. For nearly 30 years, Ev Lindsay collaborated with paleomagnetists, stratigraphers, and other vertebrate paleontologists to achieve geochronologic calibration of land mammal ages in North America, Europe, and Asia.
In the early 1970s, magnetostratigraphy of non-marine sediments was untested territory. Ev Lindsay collaborated with Noye Johnson, Dartmouth College, and Neil Opdyke, Lamont Doherty Geological Observatory, on a combined paleomagnetism and vertebrate paleontology study of the Pliocene-Pleistocene St. David Formation in the San Pedro Valley south of Benson, Arizona. They showed that the local boundary between the Blancan and Irvingtonian land mammal ages occurred just prior to the Olduvai event. This geochronologic calibration placed the Blancan/Irvingtonian boundary very close to the marine Pliocene/Pleistocene boundary. More importantly, this study demonstrated that magnetostratigraphy could indeed be applied to Cenozoic continental sediments. The 1975 GSA Bulletin publication reporting these results was literally the starting gun for magnetostratigraphy applied to continental sedimentary sequences.
Bob Butler came to U of A Geoscience in 1974 and immediately took the golden opportunity of joining Ev Lindsay in research on magnetostratigraphic calibration of Late Cretaceous and Paleocene North American land mammal ages. This decade-long research program started in the San Juan Basin of northwest New Mexico where the stratigraphic section is an imposing 2,500 feet thick requiring long traverses with sometimes difficult access and resulting end of day "death marches" back to camp. However, the crew of graduate students included Louis Jacobs, Louis Taylor, Yuki Tomida, and Larry Flynn, and these folks were not easily discouraged. But it was principally Ev Lindsay's tenacity and leadership which led this effort to complete the magnetostratigraphy of the San Juan Basin deposits and achieve geochronologic calibration of Early and Middle Paleocene land mammal ages. Through collaboration with Phil Gingerich, U Michigan, magnetostratigraphic studies of the Clark's Fork Basin in Wyoming led to calibration of Late Paleocene and Early Eocene land mammal ages. And Ev Lindsay's connection with Bill Clemens and Dave Archibald, UC Berkeley, led to magnetostratigraphic studies of the important Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary sections of northeastern Montana.
Ev Lindsay continued his collaboration with Noye Johnson and Neil Opdyke in magnetostratigraphic studies of the Siwalik deposits of Pakistan. Resulting geochronologic calibration of this sedimentary sequence was and is very important to documenting evolution of Asian mammals, including primate lineages. In addition, this work led to significant insights into the tectonics of the India-Asia collision. An increase in sediment accumulation rate by greater than a factor of two was established at ~ 11 Ma coincident with a marked increase in metamorphic detritus. The tectonic interpretation is that a spectacular 10 km uplift since 11 Ma has occurred in the likely source area, the Nanga Parbat-Hunza region of the Himalayas.
Thoughts from three of Ev’s graduate students: Larry Flynn, Louis Jacobs, and Lou Taylor:
Everett H. Lindsay was a world renowned and accomplished vertebrate paleontologist, but to his students he was “The Doc.” His students never doubted he had their backs. It was not simply that he had their backs; that was in addition to the fact that he had a great research program that extended beyond the classroom.
The Doc’s first Ph.D. student was Jeff Saunders. At the time, Lindsay was working with Vance Haynes and Bruce McMillan of the Illinois State Museum on the Pleistocene springs of Missouri. Jeff’s focus was mastodons, but he drove a dark blue Volkswagen van with the white outline of a mammoth painted across the front. Heading home from Lincoln, Nebraska, after the 1972 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting, Jeff’s van broke down with a load of grad students at 2:00 AM in Lordsburg, New Mexico. A call to fellow graduate student Jon Baskin in Tucson brought the Doc and Jon with a rented tow bar to the rescue. Arriving home, the Doc headed for the department to teach his morning class.
Another example of The Doc’s focus on his students was in his informal group, dubbed the “Red Fireballs,” which held Wednesday discussion lunches at the Panda Restaurant in Tucson with George Gaylord Simpson and Laurence M. Gould. Simpson at the time was the preeminent world-recognized authority on evolution and vertebrate paleontology. Gould was the first geologist in Antarctica, second in command of the first Byrd expedition, and the leader of the last dog sledge expedition on that continent. The conversation ranged widely because the interests of the group did.
The Doc did not limit his research to a specific group of fossils, but his specialty was rodents. His focus was geologic time. As rodents are the most diverse mammals throughout the Cenozoic, The Doc reasoned they must have evolved more rapidly than other mammals in general, and thus would provide greater resolution in biostratigraphy. In the early 1970’s Lindsay was studying the Plio-Pleistocene faunas of Arizona, especially those of the San Pedro Valley. At the same time, Noye Johnson of Dartmouth College, was investigating thermoluminescence dating with Vance Haynes in the San Pedro Valley. Magnetic polarity stratigraphy was in its infancy, pioneered in the marine realm by Neil Opdyke. His technique in building a geomagnetic timescale was to match the signal of the upper portion of cores to the dated reversal sequence of Pleistocene volcanic rocks. With the top anchored by that time correlation, the pattern could be documented for stratigraphically older sediments and thereby extend the magnetic polarity timescale. If it could be done in marine sediments, why not continental sediments, and why not in the San Pedro Valley, thereby providing absolute dates for the section and the vertebrate fossils found there? It worked (!), and that contribution by Johnson, Opdyke, and Lindsay was a major step forward.
Improving continental chronology in such a manner became a hallmark of the Doc’s career and a formative influence on most of his students. With Opdyke and Johnson, he followed the threads of his research across the globe. His projects became long term. He extended the results of the Plio-Pleistocene San Pedro Valley into Mexico, westward to California, eastward to Kansas, and to other states. He applied paleomagnetics to improve the correlation of European sites and co-edited a NATO volume on European Neogene Chronology.
Soon after the San Pedro Valley study, Lindsay and Bob Butler, new at U of A, began a multi-year project in the San Juan Basin, New Mexico, to study the magnetic polarity stratigraphy through the K-Pg boundary, through the Paleocene, and into the Eocene. From there, they continued in rocks of similar age in Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. In doing so, they were starting at a fixed point – the K-Pg boundary – characterized by its marine magnetic sequence and applying that to identify the continental magnetic sequence for the Late Cretaceous and early Paleogene.
At about the same time, the Lindsay-Johnson-Opdyke trio joined with paleoanthropologist David Pilbeam of Yale (now Harvard) and his team to study the rocks and fossils of the thick Siwalik section at the foot of the Himalaya in Pakistan. That project refined the continental paleomagnetic timescale for most of the Neogene. It allowed the partitioning of time in the Siwalik molasse into 1x105 year bins from 18 Ma to 6 Ma, arguably the best resolved extended span of continuous time attached to a vertebrate paleo fossil record yet studied. It has provided for evolutionary, ecological, climatic, and geological studies at a resolution not often encountered. Lindsay’s work in Pakistan and elsewhere led to field studies in China. The Siwalik project continued for fifty years, through generations of researchers attached to the same evolving project, including some who directly continue the Doc’s intellectual legacy.
Today many, if not most stratigraphic studies in the field employ paleomagnetic dating in some fashion. The same is true for paleontological sequences, and significantly, for almost every calibrated study of molecular phylogenetics and genetic evolution. The Doc’s research stressed the power of biostratigraphy in tandem with paleomagnetic data. From his early days in the Mojave Desert onward, absolutely key was the superpositional relationships of assemblages. From Late Neogene deposits of the San Pedro Valley to Paleocene levels of the San Juan Basin, to subtropical Miocene faunas of Pakistan, to the Mio-Pliocene of Panaca, Nevada, Doc set out to document the recorded fossil history.
Lindsay and his research projects provided the base for important studies by his graduate students. During his time at The University of Arizona The Doc advised about 20 students, and generated numerous publications. Not only setting an extraordinary academic example, The Doc mentored his students as ethical scientists.
Everett Lindsay was recognized by his fellow vertebrate paleontologists by being elected SVP Honorary Member in 2005. He was also honored in his 1998 festschrift Advances in Vertebrate Paleontology and Geochronology with an opening tribute from past students and by observations on how Lindsay’s work melded geophysics and paleontology.
Accompanying this tribute is a photograph of Ev at the festschrift, a Butler-Opdyke journal article on the pioneering contributions of Ev Lindsay, and an appreciation on the Doc, written by Louis Jacobs, Lawrence Flynn, Yukimitsu Tomida, and Louis Taylor.
Thoughts from George Davis upon first meeting Ev Lindsay
It was mid-February, 1970, and I had just flown from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Tucson in order to interview for a structural geology position in the Department of Geology. I had made the short list! The interview process was a 2-day affair, and I was able to extended it to a third to see some local geology through the eyes of Evans B. Mayo. Beyond two formal talks, the schedule called for my moving from faculty office to faculty office for one-on-one conversations, and to go to lunches and dinners with groups of faculty members. During much of the first day I found that most conversations began with my learning about the weather, the rodeo, and how nice it is to live and work in the Southwest. After about 10 minutes conversations shifted to directed questions, …directed to me of course. When my schedule took me to Ev’s office, I sat down and within moments he said, in effect: “I notice that 5 years ago you did your MS thesis research in Guatemala. Tell me how South America and North America came together; and tell me how Mexico fits in?” (Plate tectonics had hardly landed onshore). The next day at lunch I found myself at a restaurant on Broadway with about 6 faculty members. We all had ordered and there was informal chit-chatting going on. Then Ev seized my attention by saying, to the effect: “We are reading about the student unrest at The University of Michigan, …Vietnam protesting. If you were the President of the University of Michigan, how would you handle it?” I think back at this and almost imagine that, at that point, I looked behind me, left, and right hoping Ev was directing his question to someone else.
Thanks to Ev, the combination of these 2 experiences alerted me to the reality that the role of a faculty member is much bigger than a narrow discipline, such as structural geology, or a narrow thesis or dissertation. If I were fortunate, …lucky, ...I would soon be part of something much bigger, and be around colleagues that wouldn’t pull punches. Ev wanted to know what was inside of me.
Professor Lindsay was honored by the Society of Vertebrae Paleontology, and his acceptance speech can be found here.