Rice geologists study half-billion-year-old ‘time capsules’ on Texas ranch

When you look at the cliffs overlooking the Llano River in Central Texas, it’s hard to imagine that they were underwater a half-billion years ago and formed part of the North American coastline during the Upper Cambrian era.

But that’s what brought Rice marine geologist André Droxler and his team of researchers to a rare land-based expedition. “I never thought on land you could discover something,” he said. “To discover something in the middle of Texas, it’s pretty exciting.”

According to Droxler, the Eagle Ridge Ranch located in Mason County near Fredericksburg has some of the best outcrops in the world containing fossilized prehistoric bacteria and microbes. He believes these microbial reefs contained the first forms of life on Earth.

Droxler’s team was granted access to the land after working with Woodlands resident Donald Shepard and his wife, Rose, who own the ranch. The professor of Earth science also secured funding from four major oil companies that had interest in the research on microbial reefs.

Since 2012 the Rice professor and graduate students have made many trips to Mason County, drilled more than 150 core samples and virtually mapped the area using a drone. Droxler said the three summers here “have been some of the happiest summers I have had in my life,” and he returns with the same excitement as the first time he paddled down the Llano River in search of half-billion-year-old “time capsules.”



About Brandon Martin

Greetings, I am a video producer at Rice University in the Office of Public Affairs. I became a Rice Owl in June 2011. Before that, I was at KPRC-TV in Houston as a special projects photojournalist for seven years, where I covered everything from hurricanes to sports. Southeast Texas has been my home my entire life. I am lucky to have a wonderful wife and two of the cutest girls I have ever seen. Go Owls!