Hunting a 400 Million Year old Scorpion

A Devonian Trilobite

I’ve loved geology for a long time.  It’s satisfying to know why that hill is there.  I took a field trip in college once.  As we were driving up a hill, my Geology professor stood up in the bus. “Notice how this hill is very steep on the North side, and gently sloping on the south side?  This is a glacial Moraine.  The glacier gathered a pile of rubble from Canada and depositied it here.”  I didn’t stick with geology as a major.  That was the only Geology class I took in school.  I didn’t realize how much of a lasting interest it would become later in my life.  It didn’t help that Geo 101 met at 8AM MWF freshman year.

I think this is a Lichida Trilobite, early Devonian

It took about 10 years for me get interested in Geology and Paleontology.  When I started looking around, I realized that upstate New York is a really interesting place to look for fossils.  The same glaciers that littered next to the mall stripped away a lot of layers.  All the history that sat there for millions of years was scraped away by the glaciers in the last 100,000.  What’s left are some of the first eras of life on this planet.  Upstate New York has two major eras of geology right at the surface.  The Devonian era sits on top of the Silurian.  Upstate New York was under a shallow sea near the Equator during those eras.

 The state fossil of New York is the Euypterid (Yes, there’s a state fossil, your state has one, too).  I’ve been looking for a good example of a Eurypterid for years. I have a couple bits here and there, and another one that’s squashed, but not enough to convince anyone other than my wishful thinking.  It’s not surprising that I haven’t found a good one, yet.  99.9% of the animals that lived on Earth left no remains at all.  In order to form a fossil, the body needs to be covered quickly by a stable matrix (mud, silt, etc.)  Then water needs to leech into the bones or carapace, replacing the organic material with more permanent minerals.  It’s amazing how intricate and detailed a fossil can be considering how they’re created.  Scientists can count the number of fossilized pores on an insect’s leg.


I think this is a Crinoid, Devonian – present

 Fossil Prep box

 My first fossil preparation box

I’ve been a little reluctant to clean up any of the fossils I’ve found.  Even though I bring them home two knapsacks at a time, it doesn’t diminish the feeling that each one is unique.  Each one lived its life, died, then plate tectonics carried it half way around the world to wind up in my display case.  Who am I to come along with a rotary tool or a pick?  I’m getting over it.  The Trilobite at the top of this story is what convinced me.  It’s a solid impression that just needs a little cleaning up to be really special.


The fossil bearing strata in this hill were exposed by a railroad line that has now been abandoned

I have two or three sites that I go to regularly. One is a commercial fossil mine, the others are abandoned railroads or quarries. Any place where man has cut into the ground can be a good fossil site. My favorite is an old railroad that passed right through the middle of a hill near East Bethany, New York. The excavation exposed the hill from the late Devonian all the way back to the Early Silurian. The last time I was there, I was able to find a major extinction event.  I’ll have to go back to find out which specific one it is.  All I know right now, is it happened in the early Devonian.  I feel like I’m inching my way towards understanding this science.

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A lot of people have told me that I’m wasting my time with this hobby.  How can I hope to master something that takes years of study to understand?  I don’t feel like I need to master Paleontology, you’ll notice that I’m still making guesses when I identify what I find.  This is an incredibly complicated subject that uses equipment ranging from backhoes to electron microscopes.  I don’t have either, so I’m not likely to break any new scientific ground.   Like those world travelling Trilobites, it’s the process that’s important.
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Two Brachiopods, I think

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