The weakening vestiges of Hurricane Nate had made its way northward and gave Western NY a bit of a soaking. The weather forecast up to this point had been inconsistent to say the least, so it was really a gamble on what this day would bring. So we did a little bit of shopping in the morning, and by 11 am or so the rain finally stopped. So it was back to the site. However, so much rain had fallen that we were met with a fairly flooded area. That bench I carved out the day before? A little lake.
Those slabs I cut out the day before were on top of piles of overburden, so we were able to spend some time breaking those down and finding some good rollers and the occasional prone.
Although the torrential rains had stopped, the drizzle was constant. Rocks got covered in mud, my gloves became slick and muddy along with the tools, so it made work very challenging. I spent about and hour bailing the muddy water out of the bench with a bucket, and we spent another hour or so scraping and shovelling off goopy, sticky overburden. I was then able to hack out a near shopping cart sized slab that took a lot out of me. With some artful use of a wedge and pry bar, I was able to lift it just enough to get my fingers in and do a mighty pull by securing one boot on a ledge and the other stabilizing it so it wouldn't fall on top of me. It took about five or six tries, but I was able to get it on its side and start carving. The stuff was very dense and not cooperating as bedding planes just weren't a thing for this rock. Still, I managed to turn a boulder into shards, probably bagging little more than ten or so trilos. Not a great return on investment!
By about 4 or so, there really was no point continuing with this bench. Water was filling back in and I couldn't determine where the bottom of the slabs were except by touch. Also, the water had seeped into the cracks creating additional suction. I was just too pooped with the big slab anyway, so off we went to the brach area.
The not so great lakes. Wet, muddy, drizzly, and almost impossible to work.
This layer was "sticky" and dense, so some of the carapace got stuck to the impression side. That's a real bummer as this one is a complete prone.
On the left, a trilobite peeking out at the contact edge of a slab. It came out full and fine. On the right, a headless one, but fairly large at about an inch wide.
Deb and I came back from three half-days at the Penn Dixie site with an ok mix of finds despite some weather and site challenges. This is usually an ideal time for us to get out and collect as Monday was our Thanksgiving, and my university has implemented a new Fall Reading Break. However, not everything went according to plan!
We arrived around 1 pm and left before sunset.
The site itself is vastly different from when we were on the big TFF dig back in April. After the Digging with the Experts, a lot of overburden seemed to have been dumped on areas we had been working. About 5 or more feet of the stuff, actually. Usually one will find a spot where a bench has been started, and that becomes the starting point for expansion. Not so much this time around as it more meant starting a bench from scratch at the right spot where the trilobite layer is. I found an entry point about a foot and half wide and we got to work moving about a foot or more of overburden. I then starting carving out slabs and placing them on the piles of debris we were scooping up (I'm glad I did as Day 2 will make clear).
There was a slightly higher proportion of Greenops bits at this spot as I suspected from the general area we had covered last year. Pictured here are some slabs. The first one with my rock hammer dangling was resting on a very smooth inclined layer that ran about 4-5 feet wide and about 3 feet deep. The bottom half of that slab is about a foot and the top tapered part is only about a few inches. The one I pulled out the next day was a real monster at about 2.5x larger and about 400 lbs, and it took a heck of a lot of energy and several tries to wrestle it into an upright position. My back was pretty sore after that! The other slab pictured has some promise as there are some trilobite parts showing.
Ultimately, I was in search of a trilobite party, and the stuff at the base of the inclined layer seemed to hold a bit of promise for a multi-plate.
Some of the slabs I was talking about. The second one has some trilobite promise.
These pieces above have trilobites. The one on the right is a little trilobite party!
Who is that peeking out? Judging by the broad and uniquely styled genal spine, it is none other than the very rare Bellacartwrightia whiteleyi in an awkward diagonal position through the bedding planes. This will take some preparation finesse!
This is how I left the bench at the end of Day 1. Looks promising, doesn't it?
Deb and I just got back from an intensive four-day dig at Penn Dixie in Buffalo. We were joined by several Fossil Forum members, and it was great to put faces to names. We probably spent about 30 or so hours at the site in total, and cleared well over 150 square feet of virgin matrix of the Windom shale. I was also able to make use of some of my new tools, and by far the most valuable one was the 5 lb wedge. There simply wasn't a slab I couldn't yank out. Apart from just a brief bit of rain on the Saturday, the weather was ideal.
On the first day, when it was just me, Deb, and Tim, we plucked some pretty amazing stuff.
We arrived at the site on Thursday, meeting up with Fossil Forum friend, Tim. The site isn't officially open for the fossil collecting season until the following weekend, but as members we can enter any time. Pictured here is the entrance, and Deb's very great idea of adding a wagon to our collecting kit - which makes ferrying tools from the car to the north part of the pit much easier (and in bringing loads of fossils back to the car after a long day of turning rock into rubble!).
As we approached the productive trilobite pit, some white-tailed dear and wild turkeys in full display.
Below are some shots of our crew/chain gang at work if you ever wondered what it's like to work as a team breaking rock in search of great fossil specimens. Between everybody, we had all the right tools for the job and then some.
On Easter Sunday, while others ate chocolate, it was just me, Deb, and Jay working the pit - but it was by far the most productive day with shale that kept on giving. Quite literally hundreds of trilobites were collected on that day. Easter in 'Murica wouldn't be complete without the percussive sound of the shooting range next door, cuz... 'Murica! Guns!
Below, Jay and I get into the real stuff by clearing out large shale slabs at the productive Smoke's Creek trilobite layer. There's a lot of overburden to remove, and some of those slabs can be stubborn... But stubborn is no match for my reputation of being a human backhoe. There's always a nice and satisfying crunch/pop sound when the slab is freed (and a sound you hope isn't coming from your body!).
Deb splits the shale for the win: a nicely articulated Michelinoceras. We were pulling out a lot of nautiloids that day, as well.
We're absolutely exhausted. It's hard to tell with all that rubble that we made, but that entire circle formed of our bodies and tools represents the removal of a heck of a lot of shale (8" - 15" slabs). We dug right down below the water table. These onlookers had just come by and were curious what we were up to.
A find from the very first day, a rare - yet beat up - Bellacartwrightia whiteleyi. If there is 1 Greenops boothi per 100 Eldredgeops rana, there is probably 1 Bellacartwrightia for every 100 Greenops. The Bellacartwrightia are similar in appearance to the Greenops, but with some key differences in the glabellar furrows, spines along the axial lobe, longer pygidial spikes, and more robust genal spines. A nice catch, if I say so myself!
This is hardly representative of the number of Eldredgeops rana rollers and semi-prones I pulled out. I still have a lot to go through and prep. I estimate that I probably found about 250-300 specimens of E. rana.
This one is kind of funny. On the left is a cephalon covering a full prone, making it look like it is wearing one of those oversized masks. To the right of that is a piggy pile of rollers.
This gorgeous full prone popped right out of the matrix. I stabilized it on site with crazy glue to prevent any accidental breakage in transit.
An example of a full semi-prone still in matrix. Won't need too much prep to bring it out, but there may be two rollers also buried in here that need some preparation work.
These two pictures hardly do justice to the number of trilobites that still need some prep attention. Some of them are quite large, too. This will keep me busy for a while!
A fairly representative array of brachiopods one can find at Penn Dixie.
This is an interesting one as it has a black trilobite on top of a brown one. If I can prep it right, it should really stand out and reveal some of those chromatophores.
Top row: a crinoid calyx and a horn coral with encrusted calcite. Bottom row: three fairly well preserved Platyceras.
The group dig provided our members with a great opportunity to trade finds native to our respective areas. Tim very generously gave me a big box of incredible stuff (fish, gastropods, trilobites, ferns, coprolites, etc.) that I will photograph and post as a separate blog entry. For now, I'll post a few new trilobite species for my collection that Tim has given me. This one is a Phalangacephalus dentatus.
And these are fragments of Dipleura dekayi, a very interesting Devonian trilobite. These were collected by Tim at Deep Springs Road, NY.
This has been a memorable and possibly the best fossil collecting trip I've ever been on. Meeting new people, working together to haul rock, sharing our finds, perfect weather, and an abundance of quality specimens really made this a remarkable one. The aftermath - apart from nursing a very sore body! - is to process the finds I have. I expect to be posting a few more entries on the finds I've yet to prep and photograph. Thanks for reading!
Today has been all about sorting through the finds, snapping a few pictures, and some very light prep. Mostly, it's more about putting like with like: trilobites in one bucket, brachs in another; stuff to split, shards to dump, etc. Let's look at just a few of the several trilobite assemblages I'm still going through:
A specimen of Spyroceras. They don't always preserve well, but stay tuned when I clean up a much nicer one with some more detail.
Mostly moulted bits, but this assemblage of Eldredgeops rana should come out looking very nice when prepped.
These are monster Mediospirifer! Thanks to Jay for showing us a very little known spot at the site.
Spinatrypa spinosa. Assorted group with some just half shell, others with both halves.
Top first three are Rhipodomella sp. (with the first one being 4 cm wide), and the remainder Stropheodonata demissa.
Assortment of Eldredgeops rana rollers and bits that mostly popped out of the shale.
Look carefully here. I rarely ever see this, but here we have a Stropheodonta demissa with its umbilicus by which it would anchor itself on the sea floor.
I might be wrong, but this might be a crinoid calyx - not at all common in this shale.
Three days. Twenty-one hours total of hauling, hammering, and likely hundreds of tons of Windom shale. About 400 pounds of rock hauled back home. Lots of trilobites (and trilo-bits), brachs, a few nautiloids, sundry pieces. We had a great, and physically exhausting time out at the Penn Dixie site. You could hear the concert of hammers, chisels, and wrecking bars all around. We had a fantastic outing with some members of The Fossil Forum (a shout out to Jay, Rob, and Mike). I now have enough material to split down further, and prep, for a long time, so this is just part one of I-have-no-idea-how-many. We were so focused and into the work itself that we hardly took many of the pictures while we were down there.
Tough to gauge the scale of our work after three days, but here is a 20' trench connected to a 15' trench. As happens while splitting slabs hacked out of the shale right at the water line, you get a lot of infill debris. When we weren't hammering with the sledges, we were digging the rock debris out to see things more clearly.
Looking in the south direction, here is trench extended another ~15 feet. Deb is just getting out her tools. Within a few hours, Jay and I managed to hack out another four or so feet more, and a few more feet in. There were some domes to yank from the floor as well.
On the north edge of the east-west trench, Deb spots a roller.
South edge of the bench-trench. My foot is positioned on a slab I've carved down to about a fifth of its initial size. Yes, I earned my nickname of the human backhoe, and there is nothing quite as satisfying as driving a pry bar underneath a slab weighing over 200lbs, levering it out, and just picking it up and taking it somewhere else to split. Because that's how I roll. Needless to say, every night tylenol was my friend.
A lot of overburden, and one needs to get right down into the layers.
I'm hacking out some promising parts of the layer that have some isolated pockets of trilobite assemblages while jay is working nearby on widening the bench.
Deb finds a monster-sized Mucrospirifer, about 6+ cm from tip to tip. In situ photograph.
Faint and not very well preserved, but not something we encountered very often: ammonoid or gastropod?
Homework! Still a lot to sift and sort through.
I'll be adding more pictures today as I get through the piles!
Now with a whole new batch of trilobites from Penn Dixie (see my blog post on that experience here), it is time to learn how to prep. This will be my first time attempting this. Practicing on less valuable finds is a must at first. I don't have the space to go the full air compressor / vacuum system, so it will just have to be dental picks and a Dremel engraver with a lot of attachments. But here is the work so far.
Here's part of the workspace, nice and outdoors - but it is still important to observer safety (so a dust mask to block out all that very fine rock dust, and eye protection is a must).
Some of the steps in the prep: from initial state, matrix removal, more matrix removal and oil application for testing. There is more to be done to buff out the scratch lines and uncover a bit more of the specimen on the left.
This one below began with a lot of matrix, which I kept removing, leaving this one thumb-holder tag. On the right-hand side, the almost complete roller - just need to get the dental picks into the pleura to scratch off some tenacious matrix bits.
While removing matrix with a hammer and pin, you'll sometimes discover some surprises...
This is just interesting, although specimens are incomplete, yet we have two cephalon moults, in a kind of mirror positioning. Note the detail on the lenses of the schizochroal eye in the bottom one. It is said that such advanced eyes are possibly evidence that these benthic creatures were not scavengers, but active predators. As trilobites continued to develop in an environment with increasing numbers of predators (and the size thereof), they lost such advanced ocular features and most likely became scavengers again. As another possible proof of a predatory lifestyle, the hypostome (conterminant as opposed to natant) on this species (Eldredgeops rana) was far more developed and anchored to the anterior cephalon - a feature most commonly found in such animals as ticks - and their large "noses" (glabella) were like "gastric mills" for digestion more suggestive of predatory lifestyle (see Fortey and Owens, 1999). Some were still particle feeders, but those would be the smaller ones; otherwise, they were equipped with the front-loaded gastric apparatus to consume and digest larger bits of prey.
This dirty little roller is going to need to be freed up a bit more before getting a cleaning. Their ability to enrol was a defensive feature not unique to this species, and can be seen in modern day examples such as sow/pill bugs. The cephalon would form a tight seal with the underside of the pygidium, allowing their tough carapaces to shield their soft underparts.
A complete surprise - a chunk I decided to split revealed a nice little assemblage
We're back from two fantastic and productive days at the Penn Dixie site near Buffalo, NY. We packed all the necessary items to make sure we had all we needed:
This gives a fairly good idea of the kinds of fossils one is likely to encounter at Penn Dixie. Penn Dixie was once a quarry that is now owned and operated by the Hamburg Natural History Society. It boasts a lot more than just fossils, including ornithology, astronomy, and plenty of nature paths - but by far one of the biggest draws is the massively exposed 380 million year old shallow marine environment just teeming with fossils that visitors are allowed to extract and keep with the only limit being how much one can carry or fit in the car.
The volunteer staff are second to none. They are dedicated, immensely helpful, friendly, engaging, and passionate about fossils. For a nominal entry fee (adults $9, children under 12 $7, children under 2 free), you get full access for the day. I would advise trying it out for a day, and if you could see yourself coming back again (and again), consider the more cost-affordable option of buying an annual membership, which also has the benefit of supporting the incredible array of programs they offer, such as Digging with the Experts.
So here I am with PD volunteers Jay and "Dr Phil." Jay and I know each other from The Fossil Forum and we arranged that he'd show me around. We spent the whole day doing what any fossil collector would do: seek and collect fossils.
Here's a view of the site itself. You can easily pick up some of the fragments and likely come across trilobite fragments, horn corals, or brachiopods. For more hardcore fossil nuts like myself, bring some tools and have at the layers: dig about a foot or two of overburden and start making a bench. from which to haul out large shale slabs from the Windom Member of the Moscow Formation.
Here's a fairly representative and typical assemblage of trilobite moults, a few horn coral, and some worm burrows. I spent a lot of the day continuing on the bench started by my compatriot Canadians the week before. They had a rock saw, but in all fairness, I was the rock saw this time using a lot of sledge-hammer/chisel and pry bar action.
Talk about beginner's luck. I wasn't even looking for nautiloids, but I managed to split open a slab and find this fragment of a fairly large predator, Spyroceras. It may be one of the biggest ones ever found at the site.
More beginner's luck: full specimens of Greenops boothi are not easy to find compared to the large number of Eldredgeops rana. I am fairly positive that this one will be full once I prep it by removing the matrix obscuring its head. This is a bit of a contrast from where I usually hunt at Hungry Hollow since Greenops is generally the dominant trilobite in the Widder Formation.
On the first day Deb and I came away with so many trilobites that they wouldn't all fit in a single photo. This four-panel spread shows some of our best. If you look carefully, you can see some full prone Eldredgeops, plenty of rollers that need to be prepped out (and some prone ones I think may be full - but only my prep skills will determine if this is true). We also have a bucket of material encrusted with rollers that we still need to split and practice prepping on. I'll show some closeups of some of the trilobites below:
There are a lot more pics, of course, but this is a good sample. Upper left is a small cluster of popped out rollers; upper right an assemblage that might prep out nicely; bottom left a prone missing its pygidium; and bottom right a buried roller beside an impression of another roller. Not bad for the first day! We got there at about 11 am and went right until almost 5 pm. We were pretty whipped after breaking rocks... in the hot sun, I fought the law and... ok, no, but it was pretty physically demanding work for an awesome reward!
Mass extraction exercise. On the left is just getting started on day one, and on the right, I've already taken out a smaller slab from a bench I was continuing in a productive layer to get the morning started. You can see the bench behind my left boot. By the end of the day, I managed to remove about 15 or more 2'x3'x1' slabs just using chisel, pry-bar, sledge-hammer, and sheer force. I was looking for an assemblage today, so wasn't going to fool around with smaller chunks; instead, I threw them in a growing pile of discards, encouraging others to sift through them while I drove, wiggled, tanked, hauled, smashed, and split. At one point I managed to lift a slab of well over 200lbs, walk it away from my bench, place it with the bedding plane up, and start the process of splitting. Yes, I was the hulk - but, boy, did I pay for it after!
This is a view from the pit on the northwest side. This trench had been dug out almost to the water table level for the Dig with the Experts event back in May, perhaps the biggest one ever with the most ambitious excavation.
There are so many more pictures. We did find a lot more trilobites on the second day, but I want to begin prepping them before posting more pics (for the next blog entry). Here is just a mini slideshow of various scenes at Penn Dixie: