Recently returned from a three-day dig in New York. Despite all the lovely weather leading up to the trip, an almost wintry weather system was working its way through this part of the world with a lot of cold and precipitation. Not exactly pleasant collecting conditions!
Day 1: Penn Dixie
The excavator had been busy the days leading up to our visit. 160 fresh new piles of Windom shale were dug up and off limits until the annual Dig with the Experts event in May. The excavator did dig up one promising area. One of my field comrades had already visited the day before to start a bench and was finding some good material.
Friday was brutal. We only managed to stay out for three hours given the pouring rain, sleet, and the lake wind. In fact, it was so cold and wet that I didn't really take any site or collector pics.
Despite digging for only three hours, we still managed to find examples of just about every trilobite species reported at the site, missing only Pseudochenella. The two above are Bellacartwrightia sp., Eldredgeops rana, and the bottom two are Greenops barberi and Dipleura dekayi. The Dipleura is exceedingly rare at Penn Dixie, and was found in the Bayview bed.
Day 2: Deep Springs Road
Now an annual tradition, Fossil Forum members congregate at a spot in central New York, a shale outcrop on Deep Springs Road. It was snowing for a bit. Deb sat this one out, but went to Penn Dixie later in the day to find some trilobites.
As I had already hoovered up most of the usual fauna from this site last year with representatives of most of the brachs and bivalves, my sole goal was to find a complete Dipleura dekayi. Sadly, my efforts were for naught after six hours of slabbing and splitting. Most other stuff I found I gave away to other collectors there.
I did find these two phyllocarid carapaces (Rhinocaris columbina) that I gifted to my good friend Tim who had also found an amazing phyllocarid telson.
I didn't do so well on the trilobite front. It was mostly partials for me.
One of the other traditions of this meet-up is that we exchange fossil gifts. Pictured above on the left is a chunk of dinosaur jaw from Tony that could be Triceratops or Edmontosaurus. Top right are two Elrathia kingii from James who just came back from Utah, as well as some belemnites and a gastropod from Jeffrey's giveaway box. For my part I offloaded two bins of fossils to Tony for his museum. At the bottom is a fantastic gift from Tim: a Dipleura dekayi hypostome (very uncommon!) and Piochaspis sellata from the Pioche shales of Nevada.
To my good friend Tim who is a fish fossil fan, my only non-trilobite drawing. Knightia eocaena.
Day 3: Penn Dixie Again
Initially, Jay and I had plans to collect a few hours in Dunkirk where it is rumoured that Dunkleosteus pieces could be found, and a generous offer to go through some Linton coal in search of Pennsylvanian aged fish and amphibians. Things didn't work out that way, and I was kind of itching to find more trilobites at the first spot we were working on the Friday. This time, the dig was not curtailed by weather: it finally got warm and sunny. I spent 12 hours hammering and slabbing.
This is the only site pic I took, and this is a "before" image at 7 am. The chunks of rock in the foreground need to be broken down, and the area around my bucket and pry bar is the bench. By 7 pm, all of that area was cleared out.
As the day progressed, the trilobites were thinning out. I made my last significant find around 3 pm, after which it was mostly coral/brach assemblages in very tough, trashy matrix that would shatter rather than split.
Not much to write home about. This is actually a small haul compared to my usual 50-100 bugs per trip, but the pulse was pinching out and the site's excavated areas may not be ideal for trilobites this year. Still, some interesting pieces to prep.
And speaking of which, I've already thrown one into the lab to give my new tools something gainful to do. The initial field state was only showing the thorax. I used the ME-9100 to remove a lot of the excess rock, the Aro for detailing around the bug, the Paasche for abrasion, and decided to pedestal this. Matrix work was mostly filing and sanding. This kind of matrix preparation is not everyone's cup of tea, but these are common bugs and I wanted to play around with some presentation experiments.
And that's it. Not sure where/when the next trip will be given the sad shrinking of viable or accessible sites in Ontario. But I'll find a way...
Unless by dint of some miracle the snows melt away, I think I'll have to call the season. This year has had its highlights and its challenges, and so I would class it as mixed in terms of collecting success compared to 2017. There were some notable challenges this year:
* Late spring and early winter definitely truncated the season.
* An overly hot July and rainy August + scheduling conflicts meant less trips
* My backyard honey hole is pretty much tapped out
* A premium Ordovician collecting site was shuttered to collectors this year
Trilobite collecting diversity was a bit low. Whereas last year I had managed to collect 14 new species, this year's total was only 4. The surge in species acquisitions was mostly supplied through purchases and trades.
Of the trips made this year, a roundup:
* 10 trips to the backyard honey hole with one exceptional find
* A combined 6 days at Penn Dixie (late April, early October)
* My first trip to Deep Springs Road (late April)
* 2 trips to Bowmanville (May and October)
* A combined 15 or so days in the Arkona area
Due to a lack of more local viable sites this year, it meant many of us had to fall back on focusing our efforts on the Widder beds near Arkona, and we managed to excavate extensively this year. The finds were quite good (numerous full Greenops widderensis, placoderm plates, pyritized cephalopods), but somewhat repetitive.
Serious collectors up here in Canada are a little like squirrels. We try to collect as much material as possible for preparation over the winter. Pictured below is 4 of about 5 or so beer flats of material for preparation.
There is more than what is pictured here, but it isn't preparation riches.
Two new areas of focus certainly mark the year. The first has been in the gradual improvement to both my preparation tools/area and skills.
2018 saw the inclusion of that handy trolley, the manifold block for the air tools, a blast chamber my fossil comrade Malcolm made for me, a shop vac, and a new sturdy stool (previously, it was a too-low kitchen chair where the seat was propped up by boxes of rocks with a cushion atop it -- hardly comfortable or convenient). Other stuff include the usual tools of the trade (not all pictured): scrapers, blast media, glues, blades, brushes of all sizes, portable cases, etc. I also now have a nice display cabinet for the trilobites in the living room.
The second area of focus has been extensive reading and research. As I make the transition from "weekend warrior" style fossil hobbyist to something more substantive, I have been consuming a large volume of academic literature on trilobites -- everything from studies on Isoteline hypostome function, biostratigraphy, ecdysis patterns, pathologies and predation, provincial faunalism, eye-blindness trends in evolutionary morphology, microsculpture variation, etc. I also managed to read through the entirety of the trilo-bible, "Treatise O" (the revised Kaesler volume of 1997, sadly not yet including the much-needed two other volumes to round out the rest of the taxonomic Orders). Courtesy of a trilobite worker's kind textual gifts and raiding my own university library, I am effectively training myself to be a subject matter expert on all things trilobite.
IN FOcus: Arkona
Before and after: excavation area #1 (January - October). End of season image does not do much justice to the work done as a lot of debris is already burying the work.
I have been tardy in photographing all the more recent finds from Arkona since my last post about it back in July or August, but there were a few more trips made where I made mostly similar finds as in previous trips this year. Excavation work was extensive this season (and, as I'm the human backhoe, my bar for what I consider extensive is fairly high!). Last season's work became entirely buried by several metres of overburden and debris after the usual processes of winter and the fall of the erosion-resistant widow-makers higher up in the Widder.
Effectively, we had to start from scratch. Pictured above was our first major multi-day foray to get a bite into the cliff from which we could clear out debris and extend benches. It took some doing to locate the productive trilobite layer given that the overburden was obscuring the visible facies, meaning we were flying a bit blind. At the point pictured above, we're still a bit high in the formation by about 1-1.5 metres. Not a bad guess, though, and we were able to work it down and across throughout the season, managing the usual issues of cross-bedding and complicated interlocking of the Widder.
The difference a month makes. In May, Malcolm unlocking new areas. In June from the same vantage point, during Roger's annual visit to Canada, the aftermath of much more removal. We finally hit pay dirt as some remarkable finds were being made at this point after about 7 combined days of clearing and slab hauling.
By the end of spring and into early summer, excavation site #1 is well over 2 metres high, 1-1.5 metres deep, and 10+ metres wide.
Many of us contributed time and muscle to dig this out, with most (solo) visits done by me given that I live the closest to the area and have more ready access. About 12 of us hammered away at this, with a dedicated core of about half of us making repeat visits. By summer, our first excavation was pretty much tapped out unless we wanted to repeat the long clearing process to dig in deeper, which would have meant having to work from the top. We then struck a new claim nearby to the east of the same exposure.
Excavation area #2 was a bit thinner on trilobite pulses. You can see the first area to the far left of Greg.
The slope below the excavation is littered with splits from previous visits. I was able to unlock everything to the right of Greg.
The extent of excavation area #2 just won't fit in a single photo. On this final day, I was able to clear out over 15+ metres to the east. Below the excavation, you can see the massive blocks of the encrinal Hungry Hollow Member. The Widder begins just atop of that and extends to the root of the trees above. The Widder is a strange (and sometimes frustrating) formation where certain faunal intervals repeat, including very dense brachiopod limestone, mushy shale, fossil-poor nodular calcareous shales, and stuff that just weathers to chips and nothingness with poor preservation due to underground water runoff.
In all, it was a substantive amount of focused work to get the site productive again, although I fully expect it to be completely buried by next spring, when the process will have to be started from scratch yet again.
A mostly pyritized and enrolled Greenops widderensis found on my very last trip to Arkona. I have a few rollers to prepare this winter, and such configuration does not lend itself to just basic preparation skills.
FINDS OF THE YEAR
As stated, collecting opportunities were not as plentiful this year due to site closures, weather, and scheduling conflicts. And, of course, the occasional injuries I would sustain from various physical activities. This year, rather than post my best according to taxonomy, some highlights of what made the year special. I am only including here the stuff that was collected, not purchased or acquired as gifts and trades.
Perhaps among my most scientifically significant finds would be this fragmentary cephalic fringe from Odontocephalus sp. found in the imported low-mid Devonian fill (Amherstberg - Bois Blanc - Dundee formations) of my backyard spot. Only a handful of fragments have been reported in the literature in terms of Ontario of a species that is more common in New York deposits. The last significant find of said fragments may be Stauffer's in 1915.
Not just one, but two examples of a new species for me from Bowmanville: Levicerarurus mammilloides. Specimen on the left was prepared by Kevin B., and I have the on the right in my preparation queue (the right eye is in the impression). This is an uncommon cheirurid initially identified by Bill Hessin in 1988, and is restricted to Bowmanville (Hiller Member of the Cobourg Formation). The first one was find in the May trip, and the second in the October trip.
Just a few samples of some placoderm pieces, some of which may be new to science (I still need to deposit them to the ROM along with previous years' finds). The middle one is certainly not new, but a typical placoderm armour plate from Protitanichthys.
This was more a bucket-list item for me. It took three trips to Bowmanville, but I finally found a full Isotelus mafritzae. This one is morph type 'A' due to the presence of the genal spine. I'm still in the process of preparing it, and will be restoring some missing shell. It is only slightly above average size for the species at almost perfectly 100 mm (sag.). I've not seen any specimens that also present such distinct muscle attachment scars on the axis.
Initially just a Greenops widderensis threesome, my friend Kevin's prep skills on my early summer Arkona find produced the surprise of a fourth one. All are enrolled in this gregarious assemblage. As these are body fossils rather than moults, it is likely they enrolled in response to a sudden catastrophic mudslide that effectively buried and smothered them.
Of the four new trilobite species found this year, this would be a short list:
* Odontocephalus sp. (?selenurus) - My thanks to both Scott M. and Dave Rudkin for confirming the ID.
* Leviceraurus mammilloides
* Thaleops sp.
* Flexicalymene croneisi
I was fortunate this year to make new field friends courtesy of their visits to my collecting localities, or to theirs. I was able to meet several new people from The Fossil Forum in person, and many others who are not on the Forum. I made new friends, and cultivated existing ones. In a niche passion such as ours, camaraderie is quickly established (and it helps that we can talk shop without our interlocutors becoming glaze-eyed!).
In the year since I took on a more serious approach to fossil preparation with specialized equipment, I've seen marked improvement in my skills, and I've had an embarrassment of riches in terms of getting guidance from veteran preparators. Some highlights of this year from my "lab":
Although the season has now dictated that I must down collecting tools, it means picking up the preparation tools while dreaming of what new and exciting opportunities for collecting may be in the offing for 2019.
I am reminded of one of Charles Southworth's statements about February, when we stop reminiscing about the collecting season that we've just had and start thinking about the season to come.
Looking ahead to 2019, there are already some new potential opportunities in central New York, in Ontario, and possibly even some digging when I visit Germany next summer. I am also hopeful that some of the sites that have been removed from our list this year will be available next year.
This blog will also not be taking a hiatus just because snow blankets the sites; I will be updating periodically as I acquire new specimens via purchase, and tackle my preparation piles. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.
Had a pretty good time at the biannual collecting event in Bowmanville (east of Toronto). Although the first half was a complete and frustrating bust, the second half was when our luck turned. I've some prep work to do, but some field fresh finds should do for now.
Here's our crew. It seems that ever more people are coming out to this event. The quarry is so vast (six levels), that even with this many collectors poring over the blast piles there is plenty of space and opportunity to make some lovely finds. It's also nice to talk shop with other fossil-hounds. The main attraction are trilobites, and particularly large Isotelus.
Finding a complete Isotelus pretty much necessitates scanning and splitting through a lot of rock that are filled with moulted partials, some of which can be quite large. Pictured above is a few of the larger partials I took home, and one can imagine how big they might have been complete. And this is nowhere near as big as these can get.
Midway through the day, our luck started to turn. Pictured here is a Leviceraurus mammiloides of some significant size. Although the left genal spine is missing, the right eye is in the impression side, and I can prep out the pygidium to expose the long spines.
A not so great Ceraurus. As an added thrill, they can also be quite flaky. I can use this one for prep practice. The cephalon and thorax should be relatively complete.
Poorly lit photo, but I'll retake it once I give this one a quick blast with the air eraser. A fully intact, perfectly round and enrolled Flexicalymene croneisi -- a new species in my collection. You just have to love the duck-faced look of these.
Possibly a Thaleops on the left, and a Flexi on the right. Both obviously require some prep.
What I really came for: Isotelus! This being my third trip to Bowmanville, I had never found a complete one. This one has its head tucked into the matrix, so there is a chance the eyes are intact. In most cases (when the bug is exposed), the eyes are sheared off from blast damage or weathering. On the right was a small consolation specimen I picked up in case I didn't find a full one.
But wait, there's more! Well, not so much more in terms of trilobites (I have a few others I haven't added here yet). This big nautiloid chunk was worth taking home.
It's always good to break rock with good folks. It is always a great pleasure to meet up with Kevin B. with whom I've had collecting adventures. A professional preparator by trade and trilobitologist, I had entrusted him with a very delicate and challenging preparation job of three notoriously thin-skinned, enrolled Greenops widderensis from Arkona. The genal spines and lappets were flying. In the process of prep, Kevin found a fourth one on the plate. This is incredible and painstaking work. Here are a few other closeup images:
So, in all, a great time in the Lindsay Formation. And now the prep season begins...
DAY 1: Penn Dixie
Returned Monday evening from four fabulous days swinging hammers, slabbing and splitting in the field. We managed to hit two sites, with plans for a third site falling through due to weather and site conditions.
We left home on the Friday morning to arrive at Penn Dixie, in Hamburg/Blasdell NY (south of Buffalo) by noon time. It was not a public collecting day at the site, but members of the Hamburg Natural History Society are permitted to enter the site.
A group of us digging through some fresh material
Of particular note was just how much PD had changed since last season, and that is due almost entirely to some well-directed excavations at some key spots to reveal more of the Smokes Creek trilobite layer, but also opening up other on-site locations such as the Bayview brach layer and the North Evans limestone. We had the excavator on site for the second day, with the previous day ripping up a new spot in preparation for the annual Dig with the Experts event. We did not touch those piles, and focused on other spots.
I found this piece of Devonian wood, and it is a fairly healthy size for this location.
One of the excavated spots we spent the most time working on was fairly thin on trilobites, which suggests that they appear in deposition pulses on the seabed. There's no way knowing in advance if there will be a lot of trilobites, and so you hope to hit paydirt by attacking the Smokes Creek layer.
A fairly large Goniatite, sadly all busted up.
Later in the day, we migrated to a new gully area where some of our other collectors on the Sunday previous had found a few examples of the rare Bellacartwrightia whiteleyi trilobite. Sadly, that lead dried up and no Bellas were found. For the most part, trilobites were mostly appearing as disarticulated bits and moults, with not much in the way of assemblages or complete prones and rollers.
Full prone, but containing shell on both sides of the rock. This will need to be glued together and prepared.
I did have some luck despite the parsimonious nature of the slabs we were splitting. However, the "trilo-bonanza" was still eluding us all. A little before sunset we decided to leave and check in to our motel, grab some pub food, and rest up for day 2 of our trip.
DAY 2: Deep Springs Road
At around 6 am the next morning, our friend Jay picked us up at the motel to begin our first ever trip to Deep Springs Road in Central NY (Madison Cty). DSR, as it is known, has a shale outcrop that rests at the farthest edge of the Windom Formation, but the fauna is quite different than what is found at Penn Dixie. For example, instead of bountiful Eldredgeops rana, they are much rarer here, and in their place are more Greenops sp. and Dipleura dekayi. Also, the real stunner is the enormous diversity of bivalves and brachiopods. It is also quite abundant in Devonian plant pieces, larger cephalopods, phyllocarids, and other goodies.
Our crew gearing up to work.
We arrived just after 10 am, having gone through the scenic rolling hills and farmlands of Central NY. We were greeted at the site by so many of our Fossil Forum friends, some of whom I got to meet in person for the first time. There was no shortage of fun-loving personalities here, and the amount of camaraderie, sharing, and helpfulness was exceptional.
Jay and me ready to start wrecking it all up to do some serious landscaping.
Within five minutes, I was ready to get to it. In the picture above, that wall behind me would be the first to be ripped out to generate a lot of slabs for splitting. By the end of the day, I would have cleared an area 2 m x 2m x 1.25 m.
This slab simply has to go, 150-200kg or not.
Unlocking fresh stuff requires some slabbing, something I tend to enjoy doing. After some overburden was cleared, it was time to maneuver this one off the ledge. As can be seen above,. the rock is heavier than me as I sit on the pinch-point bar which was bending. Eventually, I was able to work from the left wall, wrestling it out, and driving it with my boots down the hill for others to split.
Group shot. From left to right: Dave, Jay, me, Mike, Tim, Dave 2, Jeffrey, and Leila (who fed us scrumptious homemade cookies).
The weather had been promising to make this trip a real bust, but fortunately we only had some intermittent drizzle, with the rest of the time being clear and not too hot. Everyone came away with lots of interesting finds, and friendships were formed or strengthened in breaking rock together.
Bivalves and gastropods. I'm not really up on the taxa, but these are fairly typical finds for this site.
More neatly ridged bivalves.
Large spiriferid brachiopods are fairly abundant at DSR.
On the left is a nice association piece: a spirifer, a Greenops pygidium, and a Devonochonetes sp. . On the right is a high-spired Glyptotomaria.
A well-preserved Cimitaria recurva.
Deb found this wee Greenops that might be complete once I can remove some matrix. This one is barely a few millimetres long.
As Eldredgeops rana are not common here, I bucketed this roller.
Large cephalons from Dipleura dekayi. Finding them full as opposed to moults and disarticulated bits is an event. I think only one of us found a complete prone that day, while someone else found a complete one with the head disarticulated.
More Dipleura dekayi. I'll need to probe this piece a bit more to see if they might be complete (but I somehow doubt it).
A nautiloid and an ammonoid fragment.
With the collecting day over, it was time for us to get back to the Buffalo area. As is natural for us fossil collectors, we never miss an opportunity if we're collecting together to share some gifts. A massive amount of gift exchanges ensued! I was sure to hand out plenty of goodies from Arkona, as well as whatever Ordovician extras I had lying around. Pictured up here is a lovely Herkimer diamond from Dave. These quartz crystals are quite spectacular, and regularly have inclusions of anthraconite.
Another of Dave's wonderful gifts: an assortment of mostly brachs, bivalves, and gastropods from Cole Hill Road.
The other Dave put out a box for all of us to take whatever we fancied. This is a fern from the St Clair site, a site that is no longer open to public collecting.
Of course, little did I know that Tim remembered that Deb really liked those St Clair ferns, and so she received some pieces as well!
Tim gifted me a plethora of trilobites. Two new species on my list: Crotalochephalina gibbus (the Devonian phacopid from Morocco at the very top), Changaspis elongata (a wee corynexochid from the Cambrian, China), a full Greenops sp. from DSR in case I had no luck, and three nodular Eldredgeia venustus from Bolivia.
And the second bunch from Tim. A large Elrathia kingii with cheeks intact + impression, and the rest are Eldredgeops rana.
And Jay gave me a copy of the reprinted classic, Geology and Palaeontology of Eighteen Mile Creek by Grabau. The taxa listed in this one is pretty much the same as what is found at Penn Dixie, and some of those taxa are now outdated or reassigned. But it is indeed a classic from a real pioneer and giant of palaeontology.
DAY 3 - Penn Dixie
After two days collecting with Fossil Forum friends, it was now time for Deb and me to hit out on our own. Plans to visit another site on Sunday were nixed on account of weather... Yes, it was snowing in the Buffalo area! Deb went shopping in the morning, but by the afternoon the sun was out, so we figured we may as well play at Penn Dixie again. Although it was 10 C, the winds were bitterly cold.
Deb standing in the newly excavated zone we were all working on the Friday.
We decided to make a go of trying to find the elusive trilobite layer. This involved a great deal of hauling out slabs. Again, we treated the piles for the Experts event as off-limits.
The Smokes Creek layer is usually at or below the water table. This is what one of the gully areas looked like before I came in to rip out about 2 m wide of slabs. Sadly, the rock was far too dense, and shattered rather than split. Much of what was coming out was just bits and pieces anyway.
This trio of images shows the process required to access fresh material. As these slabs at the contact layer tend to interlock, it is important to kind the keystone slab to unlock them. In this instance, I've used the chisel to exploit and widen a crack running vertically. This one is tucked under another rock, so I had to use the pry bar to wiggle and jiggle it out. After that, I flip the rock over and scrutinize the underside; if there are trilobites or impressions thereof, I then carefully inspect the mini-domes at the site of extraction. As the water is muddy, this is largely done by touch. After that, it is time to remove another slab or split the ones I have.
Probably my best find of the day. The split runs right through the trilobite, but some crazy glue and prep will make this fairly large one turn out just fine.
This one came with a small price to pay. As I was tossing down a slab, it hit the pick end of my rock hammer, which then came at my face like a bullet. It struck and split my cheek, not far from my eye! It could have used a stitch or two, but I simply clamped it together with a bandaid.
Day 4 - Penn Dixie (Again)
After three days of slabbing, splitting, pounding with sledges, wrestling with pry bars, shovelling tons of overburden, my body just about had it! It was also our departure day, which meant we needed to get back on the road by 2 pm at the latest. So we agreed to inspect the newly excavated Bayview brachiopod area where, last October, we were pulling out buckets of brachs.
This stuff splits fairly easily - sometimes just with your hands. Trilobites like Greenops are much more common here, but the shale is so thin and fragile, and the trilobites usually only come out as disarticulated bits.
Brachiopods come out easily from the shale, if they haven't already weathered out and make for some easy picking. These are from about a minute of searching. Inasmuch as we agreed that we'd just do some light surface collecting, after 20 minutes we were getting bored with the brachs (we still have several hundred of them from October's visit),.so we went exploring back to the trilobite beds in search of a plentiful area.
Going through my splits, Deb finds this beauty.
A spot-check on some nearby rocks indicated that this particular area on the site might prove productive. Pictured here, after I removed the covering slab, is a very large dome. Domes at PD can either be full of trilobites or full of nothing.
Paydirt! We finally found the productive part of the layer. Although none of these are complete, it is strongly indicative of the presence of more assemblages in the depositional environment. Of course, it was almost time for us to leave just when we found the sweet spot. But we did manage to pull out a few rollers and near-completes that I haven't had a chance to photograph yet, but I think I've got the real highlights here in this post anyway.
And so it was back to Canada after a four day adventure. I was beyond sore, of course, but overall it was great to collect with friends old and new, enjoy the outdoors, and come away with treasures found and gifted.
Upcoming digs will likely be in the Arkona/Thedford area, and a trip to Bowmanville at the end of this month. Until then, time to manage some new backlog on the prep bench!
The snow has (only briefly, I hope) returned once again and it is coming close to May. I'm hoping this will be the last blast of winter... but I think I've said that before! The weather looks like it will turn around for the weekend and return to normal seasonal values. And that is great news as I gear up for a four day dig at three sites in NY next weekend with plenty of Fossil Forum folks.
Speaking of Forum folks, one of our very generous members, Ralph, sent me a lovely package of trilobite partials he was able to pick up from a rock show. Ralph was also exceptionally kind in sending me (and several others) large boxes of Conasauga Fm matrix from Georgia, USA to play with, loaded with Cambrian trilobites.
Pictured here are three species of trilobite new to my expanding collection (standing at a whopping 76 distinct species now). Let's zoom in...
These are the pygidia of the Silurian phacopid, Trimerus delphinocephalus that occurs in the Rochester shale of NY. These trilobites are narrow and could grow quite large and somewhat resemble Dipleura dekayi in terms of shape.
A nice assortment of partials of the dalmanatid, Dalmanites limulurus, also from the Silurian Rochester shale. These ones do not preserve very well, and many of the ones for sale are missing the cuticle and their eyes, with some people choosing to restore them by adding eyes from other partials to make a frankenbug. That is fine if the seller is honest about the restoration (not all sellers are, though). One remark about the Rochester shale trilobites is that they tend to appear as though "listing" in the rock, leaning to the right or left.
Although missing some parts, this is another phacopid, Huntoniatonia sp. Without more diagnostic detail, drilling down to the species level may not be possible with this one. This one appears in the lower Devonian limestone of the Haragan Fm in Oklahoma, which is also famously known for producing some lovely spiny and horned trilobites like Kettneraspis and Dicranurus which usually only appear in Moroccan deposits. To some trilobite collectors, Oklahoma is like a little Morocco with the similarities between species, although with continental drift now thousands of kilometres apart from one another.
So, a lovely gift from Ralph once again keeps my spirits up while the weather is not cooperating fully with my digging plans.
I traded some material with a friend on the Fossil Forum and just received an immensely generous package filled with new trilobites that will be added to the gallery.
Pseudoasaphinus gosilicyensis - sitting atop a Proterocameroceras mishinagorense. From the Gosilitsy Quarry in Russia.
Modocia brevispina - Middle Cambrian, Wheeler shale, Utah
An Asaphus latus for me to prep! From Russia.
An Olenellus gilberti from the Cambrian. Pioche, Nevada.
Assemblage of Ptychagnostus richmondensis from the Wheeler shale in Utah. Mid Cambrian.
A Piochaspis sellata from the Chisholm shale of Pioche, Nevada (Cambrian).
The tiny Bolaspidella housensis from the Wheeler shale of Utah (Cambrian)
A fabulous pair of Itagnostus interstrictus from Utah's Wheeler shale (Cambrian)
The very last on my list, alphabetically, Zacanthoides sp. (?typicalis). Cambrian, Pioche, Nevada.
A complete surprise (apart from all the surprise new specimens above!), a genuine Spinosaurus tooth!
I ordered these cool membrane frames for cheap online, and that will help fill this:
Deb's birthday present to me, a lovely glass display cabinet to host all my lovely trilobites!
So, wow, what a great haul today!
Last I checked, it's still winter, and that means no possibility of getting out to collect. However, needs must when the devil drives and all that, so I have been doing some collecting indoors.
I am going to kick this post off with something very close to home (as in, at home!).
This pygidium was found among the many pieces I collected from my honey hole in town. When I first found it, I thought little of it and just threw it in the bag. However, now that the snows keep my troublemaking relegated to the indoors, I decided on a Sunday afternoon to look a bit closer at stuff I stuffed into containers from the previous year. This one is bereft of an identity at the moment. I've searched the literature, from Ludvigsen to Lesperance, to Levi-Setti to Whittington, and can't seem to get a proper ID on this lower Devonian trilobite. If anyone out there knows, I'd be grateful to hear from you in the comments.
So, setting aside mysteries, I purchased a few trilobites - one from eBay and two from a fellow forum member.
This is the eBay acquisition that I got very cheaply: a Declivolithus ?alfredi from Morocco. This is a neat looking asaphid trilobite from the Ordovician with a kind of textured "fan" that reminds me of harpetid bugs.
Adding another Moroccan trilobite to the collection (recalling I also have a Drotops megalomanicus acquired in July, 2017), this is an exquisitely well-preserved Hollardops sp. I got from a fellow forum member. The eye lenses show great detail, and I can tell it's genuine as opposed to the many fakes out there because of one very telling detail: notice the crack that travels across the specimen? The first picture shows it best. That is known as a discovery crack, and that is how these trilobites are found in Morocco. The matrix is ridiculously dense, so trilobites do not come out nice and clean. Instead, diggers will find a whisker line that shows the presence of a trilobite. From there, they glue the two pieces together and prep it out. This one looks very similar to Greenops, but this style for phacopids was quite popular in the Devonian!
From Russia with love! Yes, this is an Ordovician trilobite from Russia, Asaphus kowalewskii. It is a commonly sought after specimen due to its long eye stalks, or peduncles. Sadly, despite all noble efforts from my friend on the forum, the postal service still managed to damage this one, so it took an hour of trying to reattach several pieces of the peduncles. They may not be in their proper orientation, but you haven't explored your full lexicon of expletives until you try to use crazy glue and tweezers to try and restore broken peduncles. Despite its current state, it still finds a home here.
These trilobites, for some reason, developed long eye stalks. It has been reasoned that it was to be able to see in highly turbid waters, or to be able to continue their benthic existence safely while being buried up to their eyes. What is particularly unique about them is that they are only found in Russia.
And that isn't all. Yes, wait, there's more! - But that will have to wait until packages arrive. I have traded some spare trilobites with forum members in the Netherlands and South Korea who have some lovely bugs to send me in return. I also have another exotic Moroccan bug coming from England. I'll update this post or make a new one when they all come in.
Apart from that, I did some online shopping for fossil necessities. Coming in the mail will be a pin vice, which will spare my poor hands and fingers in using sewing needles for fine prep. I'm also awaiting a tactical backpack to replace my rather worn backpack that is pretty much unusable now as a cat peed on it.
But, so far, 2018 has seen the arrival of three new species to my collection, and one mystery unknown! I anticipate from between 4-8 new specimens in the next few months. Starting off the collecting year - in pre-season - strongly!
Given the heavy grading work at the backend of this year, and the dodgy weather, I am having to call it on the collecting season. November has been a fairly poor month for collecting: if it wasn't raining (or snowing), the nicer days frustratingly coincided with days I had to be on campus.
But as I lay down my trusted tools in my move from labour to refreshment, I can look back on this year having been my absolute best. And, perhaps, much credit is due those reliable tools that have served me so well in breaking through hundreds of tons of rock. Of course, credit is mostly due my lovely partner Deb who not only added thousands of clicks to the car, but for being such an enthusiastic co-collector.
This year's trips included:
* 2 to Penn Dixie (Devonian)
* 2 to Brechin (Ordovician)
* 1 to Bowmanville (Ordovician)
* 1 to Collingwood area (Ordovician)
* 12+ to Arkona (Devonian)
* 30+ to my nearby honey hole (Devonian)
Many of those trips have reports posted here in the blog. It has also meant meeting plenty of new collecting friends with whom to break rock with. If that were not in itself fantastic, I also got into preparation courtesy of having purchased an air eraser and air scribe. I've upped my game considerably, turning a casual hobby into a true passion. It was not that long ago that I may have made a few short visits to Arkona and in my backyard with little more than a nail hammer and a wood chisel. Now, with the right tools, I carved out hundreds of feet of benches and cracked hundreds of tons of rock. The collection has grown by an order of magnitude.
I also purchased or was gifted several delightful pieces this year. Another aspect that has made this a banner year would be a surge of trilobites where 2017 added no fewer than 29 new species, a few of them very rare and not reliably reported in the literature.
Above is a snapshot of many of the new species in my display.
So, last year I made a "best of" post for each category. This year is going to be immensely difficult to make those choices as so many of them are deserving of the honour. But try I must.
Best trilobite of the year
Despite all the lovely ones I've purchased, received, and found - particularly from the Ordovician - I'm giving the nod to this lovely plate of three full Greenops widderensis. Certainly this species is not new to the collection, but the rarity of finding so many clustered together like this in a difficult matrix makes it worthy. My runners-up would be Mannopyge halli, and Isotelus, Ceraurus, and, well, all the other ones I found!
Honourable mention goes to this beauty, expertly prepped by Malcolm Thornley.
Best cephalopod of the year
It's a three-way tie. It could have been four if I included the the big nautiloid whoppers I found at Brechin. Clockwise from top left: a lovely Goniatite from Arkona, some lovely Jurassic ammonites from Roger, and an exquisitely pyritized nautiloid from the Widder shale.
Best PISCES of the year
Amidst some cool placoderm pieces, and some really neat Diplurus pieces from Tim, the prize this year goes to Deb and her huge chunk of placoderm armour belonging to Protitanichthys.
Best gastropod of the year
Plenty of contenders this year, including some nicely preserved Platyceras, and some rarer spired gastros from the Verulam Formation, but I'm settling on this long one from the Verulam for its size alone.
BEst bryozoan of the year
I always pick up interesting looking bryozoans, and this year saw quite a few. However, hands down, this Constellaria from the Verulam Fm will take the prize if only on account of its exceptional rarity in that formation.
Best ichnofossil of the year
I don't really get jazzed about ichnofossils, but this broom-headed one was so worth picking up that even Deb found one on our second trip to Brechin. This one is Phycodes ottawensis, and these are formed by worms burrowing from the same spot repeatedly taking different pathways in the muck.
best phyllocarid of the year
Another fantastic find by Deb at Arkona, a thick phyllocarid jaw. This would be our first.
best brachiopod of the year
No point making a decision. I've pulled quite a few nice brachs this year, but this smorgasbord of about 1,000 intact ones spanning 6 species from Penn Dixie will have to be the winner this year.
I'm begging off the best coral of the year, and a few other categories. I can say the fossil I collected that came from the farthest distance from home would be the Cretaceous oysters and sundry bits from Magoita Beach in Portugal.
But this year would not have been anywhere near as spectacular if it weren't for the people whose time, company, and generousity truly made it shine. Apart from Deb, I can certainly add to the roster of great fossil companions, Tim J., Malcolm T., Roger F., Jay W., Kevin B., Kevin K., Jason R., Ralph J., Marc H., Ron B., and others I may have neglected to mention.
Best year ever! And thanks to the visitors to this blog for reading. Perhaps more posts will be in the offing as winter time means being holed up indoors and engaging in some prep.
UPDATE: Malcolm just showed me a few bugs of mine and Deb's that he prepped. A true master. The left one is Ceraurus and the right one is a Greenops.
Recently, Ralph J., a Fossil Forum friend, had made a trip to Georgia to collect some fossils from the Conasauga Formation, which is Cambrian in age. After he had posted his finds from the trip, I expressed delight at the seeming abundance of trilobites in the mudstone-shale, and he very kindly offered to send me some of the trilobites and some matrix to split. I was absolutely floored with his generousity - and this was only exceeded by the size of the box. There will be enough for Deb and me to split for a while.
And none too soon, either! The forecast is calling for flurries this Friday, which hopefully does not prematurely bring closure to such a memorable 2017 collecting season. I am dimly holding out hope that there will be at least one day left where Malcolm and I can get out to Arkona... just one last kick at the can before the snows fly.
At the moment, I am completely buried under a lot of grading and other work, so this gift arriving in the mail was certainly a great respite. I have not yet had an opportunity to get at the matrix, but here is a four panel picture of the newly added species to my burgeoning collection, Aphelaspis brachyphasis.
The matrix itself has a kind of slick, smooth, almost velvety texture. It splits fairly easily, and has a nice olive and tan colour to it, some with a deep orange staining, sometimes yellow (a very colourful matrix!). This layer has virtually nothing else visible to the eye except for this species of trilobite, and more uncommonly small fragments of a very tiny agnostid trilobite that perhaps only a magnifying lens will be able to spot.
These guys can be pretty small. The biggest ones are about under an inch, with plenty of others barely a millimetre or so long. The preservation is new to me. The trilobites are replaced entirely by minerals and in-filled with a kind of mud, and so you may find more detail in the impression than in the positive.
I've made the attempt above to put one of the very tiny ones (~1.5 mm) under the digital microscope to show some of the diagnostic details. Not the best picture, but you get the idea. Once I find the time to go through the matrix, I may have some better examples to show - and even if not, these are welcome new specimens to the collection.
Stay tuned as I am expecting three species of trilobite from Bolivia, and eventually my air scribe to work on some of my previous finds in the hopes of discovering some surprises.
And this is where this fantastic, whirlwind, whistle-stop tour comes to an end: at the St Marys Cement quarry in Bowmanville. This quarry is massive, and it only opens up to collectors once or twice a year - and in that case, only to collectors who are part of a recognized club (and so Deb and I are new members of the Scarborough gem and mineral club). Safety is paramount at any quarry, and this one is no exception. Full safety gear is just the minimum, for there are plenty of other safety policies we are obliged to follow. We all assiduously follow all the rules as we want to maintain goodwill with the quarry owner. Violating safety is not only dumb and dangerous, but it risks collectors being entirely shut out from there forever.
And so we began gathering in the parking lot around 8 am. The quarry is known for producing a lot of Isotelus and Pseudogygites trilobites. The workers see some of these big creatures going up the conveyor to be crushed to make cement and call them "turtles." And these trilobites can get pretty massive.
This is how my day started. We had planned on just driving up to a hotel in Bowmanville, but they were all booked up. The one time I didn't book in advance since I figured, heck, it's Bowmanville... How hard could it be to find a place for the night? Famous last words! Fortunately, the kind staff at the local hotel called around and we got a place just 14 km up the road in Oshawa. The picture above is a brand new day as we are leaving the hotel to join our collecting comrades at the quarry.
This is our crew eagerly awaiting entry. Our trip leader, Kevin, said that this must have been the biggest turnout for a day at Bowmanville. Weather may also have something to do with it: usually without fail the trip occurs when it is cold, rainy, or both. On this day, it was warm and sunny.
This is a serious quarry. That truck on the right has tires taller than me!
Once we signed our forms and had the safety talk from the quarry foreman, we formed a convoy of cars and entered the quarry. This quarry is so large that you actually do have to drive from one blast pile to the next. Many of us started at level 3. Those piles aren't tiny, and you are scrambling up piles of rock that can in some cases be the size of small apartment buildings.
Yours truly giving closer inspection at a low-lying pile. Scale is tough to make out in this picture, but that wall in the background is probably about 300 or so metres away. The "trick" at this quarry is not to stay in one place to split rock, but to cover a lot of ground. About three of our crew have rock saws, and so what you do when you find a great specimen in some car-sized slab of rock is to mark it with tape so that at the end of the day the guys with saws can cut it out for you.
My first find of the day: a beat up Flexicalymene. The stratigraphy of the quarry has a lot to offer. At the very bottom is the Verulam Formation (the dominant unit at Brechin), and over top that in levels 2-3 is the Lindsay Formation. At the very top is the Collingwood Member with rich black shales that are easy to split.
The Isotelus trilobites here are huge. Sadly, you mostly encounter fragments. This piece here would have belonged to a critter at least 14 or more inches long.
Massive genal spine, likely from an Isotelus mafritzae.
Someone got to this one before I did! That lucky collector hopefully got this one cut out of the rock. It looks like an intact Isotelus roller. Apart from some blast/quarry damage, it is likely complete.
Another early part of the day find, a partial Isotelus mafritzae. It is sadly a common feature that the eyes get busted off. I don't want to give the impression that the collecting was as simple as stumbling over thousands of this lovely fossils: you could scan quite literally hundreds of tons of rock and find very little beyond occasional fragments. Apart from some occasional brachiopods or crinoid stems, there isn't a lot of diversity in these rocks, so it is pretty much trilobite or bust! It's also rough going... I was having to scramble over enormous building-sized piles of rock with a bucket and heavy backpack on uneven slabs, so not so easy as it looks!
Some of our more seasoned veteran collectors didn't make out so well this time around. One found a few mostly complete Ceraurus, and another collector find a nice plate of full - but somewhat damaged - Pseudogygites, but some of our best collectors made out poorly or were entirely skunked. But at the very least, I think everyone came away with something even if it wasn't a prize and pristine Isotelus. More importantly, it was great to hunt with everyone.
This is just part of the head of an Isotelus. It would have been, full, at least 13 inches long! This was an encouraging find as I was gradually becoming a bit more discouraged in not finding anything complete.
Another sweet, if incomplete, find. The trilobite Pseudogygites latimarginatus also occurs in this tough limestone, but unlike how it appears in the upper member of the Collingwood shale, they come out with a fine exoskeleton texture and fully inflated rather than flattened. This one I carefully extracted from a very large slab. It has some thorax, which is much better than the zillions of just tail moult pieces one usually encounters. Pseudogygites and Isotelus are effectively closely related species.
partial roller missing a lot of parts.
I put the biggest fragments I came across into the collecting bucket as a souvenir of the trip.
Just... wow. A fragment alone almost a foot long!
I pulled this rock out that had a thin line running through it which I suspected to be an Isotelus. When I got home I split it and out came a fragment. A fairly mighty one.
As our time was coming to a close, Deb and I made our way to the uppermost level where there are enormous books of black shale belonging to the Collingwood Member. There are quite literally thousands of Pseudogygites latimarginatus and Triarthrus eatoni moulted bits among the brachiopods. Finding a full one of either is not easy, and so you have to split shale in massive volume. Fortunately, it splits easily and finely, and it is like the pages of a book. If I had a trip-maker, it might be this small but full Pseudogygites above, showing both the positive and negative impression.
So, wow. What a trip it has been! Three days spanning over 400 km and three quarries - Arkona, Brechin, and Bowmanville. I was able to collect with old friends, and make new ones. Although I don't think I found anything scientifically significant, I did manage to collect some very nice specimens (including that pair of Greenops on a single plate!). I was able to add two more species of trilobite I did not have (Amphilichas ottawensis and Isotelus mafritzae).
I'm hoping this will be an annual tradition from this point on. It sure is exhausting, though! But the thrill of the hunt, the camaraderie of being with other collectors, the sharing of knowledge, and all that lovely fresh air and sun does one good.
Reflecting on October, it has been a great month for collecting. I've been to Arkona a few times, to Brechin and Bowmanville, three days at Penn Dixie, and even found a new species of trilobite in my backyard region. And inasmuch as October has been a true surprise, this year has long ago distinguished itself as the absolute very best year for all things fossil. So what's next? Winter is just around the corner, and maybe - just maybe - I might be able to squeeze out one or two more trips before I have to put away the hammers for the season. But with my air eraser, and my air scribe coming, I can at least spend those cold, snowy months preparing all that I have found this year.