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Prehistory to 1799

  1. Geologic History
  2. Early Peoples and Indian Civilizations
  3. European Explorers

Geologic History

Prehistory means the time period before man recorded events by writing. To find out about this time we rely on information provided to us by scientists called geologists, who study the earth, or archeologists, who study the artifacts ancient peoples left behind. Geologists use a geologic timetable to describe how and when land was formed. They have determined the earth to be at least 4 billion years old! A geologic map shows the layers of land that have developed in Kansas through its history.

To simplify their studies, geologists have divided the study of time into 3 units: eras, periods and epochs. Different rocks and minerals appeared during these times because of glaciers, erosion, volcanoes, earthquakes and other natural events. Large amounts of sedimentary rocks are found throughout our state, including sandstone and limestone. As a result of these natural factors, various landforms with very different physical appearances occur in Kansas.

It is believed life began on earth around 4 billion years ago. About 300 million years ago, Kansas was located close to the equator. Around this time, a vast inland sea covered Kansas. Fossil remains of sharks, fish, reptiles, other animals and plants that lived in Kansas during this time can often be found in rock formations in many parts of the state. As time passed, the North American continent drifted to the north away from the equator to its present location.

Sandstone formations at Rock City near Minneapolis

Temperatures varied greatly at different times during the Earth's history, Through the millions of years there have been several Ice Ages during which glaciers covered much of the North American continent. Geologists believe at least two of these glaciers reached the northeastern part of Kansas. These glaciers carried rocks and boulders from South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa and deposited them in the Glaciated section of northeastern Kansas. The last Ice Age occurred around 18,000 B.C. Once the Ice Age ended, the climate became more suitable for other forms of life.

Additional Resources

bulletMuch more information about the geologic makeup of Kansas is available at the Kansas Geological Survey web site. Of particular interest are the individual County Geologic Maps.
bulletMore information about the prehistory of Kansas can be found in From Sea to Prairie by Catherine S. Evans.
bulletTo learn more about the formation of the earth and continental drift, go to the United States Geological Survey - This Dynamic Earth.

Study Guide Questions

  1. What types of rocks are commonly found throughout Kansas?
  2. What was Kansas like 300 million years ago
  3. Why is Kansas so different today than it was 300 million years ago? 
  4. How did rocks from the northern part of the country end up in Kansas?
  5. Why are rocks and minerals useful to geologists?
  6. What are some rocks or minerals found in Kansas that can be used to make various products we use today?

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