Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A striated brachiopod from the Silurian of New York

November 13th, 2015

6 StriispiriferCalebsSometimes it is a Fossil of the Week simply because it is new to me. The brachiopods above are abundant in a thin layer of shells within the Lewiston Member of the Rochester Shale (Silurian, Wenlockian) in western New York State. They are well exposed in the magnificent Caleb’s Quarry a few colleagues and I visited this past summer.
2 Striispirifer niagarensis Bed 9 Mbr D

3 Striations Sheinwoodian 585I find this spiriferid brachiopod fascinating because of the fine striations it shows on its fold and sulcus (where the shell bends at its middle). I’ve never seen these before on a brachiopod. The species is Striispirifer niagarensis (Conrad, 1842). I know of no functional interpretation of these fine lines other than that they might have provided some micro-topography to dissuade encrusting organisms. (I observed, in fact, no encrusters on these shells, but that may be coincidence.) The Striispirifer shell pavement consists mostly of isolated valves, but there are occasionally clusters of articulated shells in living position. It appears likely this is a storm lag of shells that was later colonized by the same brachiopods composing it.
4 Conrad description niagaraensisWe met the species author Timothy Abbott Conrad (1803-1877) earlier in this blog. He described this brachiopod originally as Delthyris niagaraensis in 1842 (above). (The third “a” in the species name was dropped by James Hall in his species lists.) This name held for over a century until G. Arthur Cooper and Helen Muir-Wood discovered that the genus was also in use for another brachiopod named in 1828 by Johan Wilhelm Dalman. This made “Delthyris” a homonym, or a name for a taxon identical in spelling to another such name for a different taxon. We can’t have that, of course, since every genus name must be unique (at least among the animals). Cooper and Muir-Wood (1951) gave the later genus (the junior homonym) the new name Striispirifer. Paul Taylor and I recently had our own adventure with a homonym we inadvertently created.
5 Helen Muir Wood 1955 Jill DarrellHelen Muir-Wood (1896-1968) was one of the most prominent brachiopod experts of the 20th Century. The image above may be the first one of her online. (Thanks to Jill Darrell of the Natural History Museum, London, for providing it. Come to think of it, the earlier image of Rousseau Hayner Flower in this blog is likely the first picture of him on the web.) Muir-Wood was born in Hampstead, England, and educated at Bedford College, University of London (a college for women at the time). She joined the professional staff at the British Museum (Natural History) in 1922 and spent the next 43 years of her career there. She was a systemacist to the core, apparently intolerant of any work with with fossils outside of describing and classifying them. Although she did no fieldwork of her own, from her position at the museum she was able to study brachiopods from around the world. She pioneered the techniques of describing brachiopod internal structures and eventually had to her credit hundreds of new and redescribed taxa. She was awarded the Lyell Medal in 1958 for her achievements, and in 1965 received the Order of the British Empire. She was remarkably successful and her work is still heavily cited to this day.


Ager, D. 1969. Helen Marguerite Muir-Wood. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 80: 122-124.

Brett, C.E. 1983. Sedimentology, facies and depositional environments of the Rochester Shale (Silurian; Wenlockian) in western New York and Ontario. Journal of Sedimentary Research 53: 947-971.

Conrad, T.A. 1842. Observations on the Silurian and Devonian Systems of the United States, with descriptions of new organic remains. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 8: 228–280.

Cooper, G.A. and Muir-Wood, H.M. 1951. Brachiopod homonyms. Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 41: 195-196.

Dalman, J.W. 1828. Uppställning och Beskrifning af de i sverige funne Terebratuliter. Kongl. Svenska Vetenskaps Academiens Handlingar, für 1827, 1828; Stockholm, tryckt hos P.A. Norstedt & söner, pp. 93, 99.

Williams, A. 1969. Helen Marguerite Muir-Wood. Proceedings of the Geological Society of London 1655: 123-125.

Wooster’s Fossil (Maybe) of the Week: Kinneyia ripples

October 23rd, 2015

1 Kinneyia_Grimsby_Silurian_Niagara_Gorge_585While hiking through the Niagara Gorge on a field trip in August, my friend Andrej Ernst of the University of Kiel found the above block of siltstone from the Grimsby Formation (Silurian) with unusual small-scale ripples in a patch. Carl Brett (University of Cincinnati) immediately identified it as a sedimentary structure/fossil known since 1914 as Kinneyia. This name was new to me. I had long called such features “elephant skin”, but I’ve now learned that these “sedimentary wrinkles” have a long and sometimes contentious history of study, and they have significant variability (see references).

Charles Doolittle Walcott (1850-1927) was one of the best known and productive invertebrate paleontologists. An American, he most famously discovered the Cambrian Burgess Shale in western Canada with its fantastic soft-tissue preservation. Walcott was especially fascinated with finding the earliest evidence of life, so he intently studied rocks older than the Cambrian (an interval we used to call the Precambrian). In 1914 he published a compendium of what we considered to be fossil algae, including Kinneyia. Below is his original description followed by his photographic image.
2 Walcott 1914 1073 Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 6.42.01 PM4 Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 6.42.57 PMWe now know that these curious structures are not fossilized algae, hence the name Kinneyia no longer has any biological use. (You may note that most authors do not italicize the name, emphasizing that it is no longer a valid taxon. I keep the style as a reminder of the name’s history.) These are ripples with sinuous, bifurcating, flat-topped crests. They are sometimes very complicated when the crests interfere with each other. Their flat tops (when well-preserved) suggest that there was something lying above them. Most workers on Kinneyia conclude that this was a microbial mat, so Walcott would be at least satisfied that life was involved. Did the Kinneyia ripples form as gas built up underneath a decaying mat? Are they made when the mat shrinks through desiccation? Experimental physicists have even gotten involved in the interpretations. Thomas et al. (2013) write: “Microbial mats behave like viscoelastic fluids. We propose that the key mechanism involved in the formation of Kinneyia is a Kelvin-Helmholtz type instability induced in a viscoelastic film under flowing water. A ripple corrugation is spontaneously induced in the film and grows in amplitude over time.”

Kinneyia is thus a sedimentary feature formed by physical processes mediated by life in the form of a microbial mat. What those processes were is the most interesting question now.


Gerdes, G., Klenke, T. and Noffke, N. 2000. Microbial signatures in peritidal siliciclastic sediments: a catalogue. Sedimentology 47: 279-308.

Hagadorn, J.W. and Bottjer, D.J. 1997. Wrinkle structures: Microbially mediated sedimentary structures common in subtidal siliciclastic settings at the Proterozoic-Phanerozoic transition. Geology 25: 1047-1050.

Noffke, N., Gerdes, G., Klenke, T., Krumbein, W.E. 2001. Microbially induced sedimentary structures — a new category within the classification of primary sedimentary structures. Journal of Sedimentary Research A71: 649-656.

Porada, H., Ghergut, J. and Bouougri, E.H. 2008. Kinneyia-type wrinkle structures—critical review and model of formation. Palaios 23: 65-77.

Thomas, K., Herminghaus, S., Porada, H. and Goehring, L. 2013. Formation of Kinneyia via shear-induced instabilities in microbial mats. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 371(2004), 20120362.

Walcott, C.D. 1914. Cambrian geology and palaeontology III No.2 – Precambrian, Algonkian algal flora. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 64: 77-156.

Wooster Geologist at Niagara Falls

August 10th, 2015

1 American FallsLOCKPORT, NEW YORK (August 10, 2015) — I know, such a cliché image, but you know it had to happen on this trip. This morning Andrej Ernst and I packed up 78 pounds of bryozoan-rich Silurian rocks and mailed them to Kiel, Germany. (Thank you to the kind and patient people at both UPS and the USPS.) We celebrated our success with a trip to Niagara Falls. Above is the view of American Falls from Prospect Point.

I can’t recommend going to Niagara Falls at the height of the season, especially since the parking system seems to be in disarray and run by 14-year-old boys, and the lines are like Disneyland on the Fourth of July. Nevertheless, there is no way I’m going to let the German visitor spend a week in Niagara County and not see the main attraction.

2 Cave of the Winds MWYellow plastic ponchos and sandals are for the regular public, not geologists.

3 Andrej wet 081015Andrej is very pleased to intimately meet the water pouring over the falls. We tried not to remember that it all flows from Lake Erie.

Tomorrow I take Andrej to a Buffalo hotel where he will wait until his flight back home to Germany. I then make the long drive back home to Wooster. A successful end to my 2015 field season. Lots of ideas now for next year!

Please use the tag NY2015 for a link to all the posts on this trip.

For our records, here are the localities visited on this trip —

GPS # Location Latitude, Longitude Notes
112 Caleb’s Quarry N 43.20092, W 78.46021 Bryozoans in Lewiston E
113 Gasport Quarry N 43.19973, W 78.54436 Lewiston E, Burleigh Hill contact
114 Gasport Road N 43.19144, W 78.57550
115 Niagara Rd/Railroad North N 43.17556, W 78.72086 Top of Lewiston B
116 Niagara Rd/Railroad South N 43.17377, W 78.72364 Top of Lewiston E
117 Cherokee Unconformity N 43.18355, W 78.70266
118 Craine Street N 43.17995, W 78.71020 Gasport Formation, glacially-truncated fossils
119 Hickory Corners parking N 43.18435, W 78.75449 Reynales, Hickory Corners Member; Aeronian
120 Niagara Gorge Lewiston B N 43.14851, W 79.04095 Lewiston B; Sarle Reefs
121 Buffalo Creek South N 42.84728, W 78.60229 Wanakah; Rhipidomella beds
122 Buffalo Creek North N 42.84871, W 78.60202 Wanakah; Pleurodictyum beds
123 Bethany Center N 42.93250, W 78.13408 Centerfield Limestone Member, Ludlowville
124 Hickory Corners SR93 site N 43.18464, W 78.75394 Reynales, Hickory Corners Member; Aeronian
Jeddo Creek Tributary N 43.20175, W 78.47350 Carl’s “washings” locality; top of Lewiston B

Final day in the Silurian of New York

August 9th, 2015

1 Caleb new excavationLOCKPORT, NEW YORK (August 9, 2015) — This was the last day in the field for Andrej Ernst and me. We met all our goals (collecting bryozoans from the Rochester Shale, finding sclerobionts anywhere, and learning more about New York fossil localities) and had a great time. Now we have two days left to pack our specimens, ship those going to Germany, and review our notes. We will probably get some time tomorrow to see Niagara Falls!

We worked this morning in Caleb’s Quarry, a place we visited on our first day. Paul Chinnici, one of the fossil enthusiasts working this quarry, was our generous host. We were impressed with how much has changed in just the five days since our last time here. The large excavation above, for example, is new. This is fossil-collecting at a very large scale!

2 Caleb blocksAndrej searched for more bryozoans in the top layers of the shales while I studied these blocks of resistant calcareous siltstones and limestones. They are from a layer about midway down in the quarry. The shales erode to clay around them while they stand in relief.

3 Caleb block plan viewThe blocks have excellent trace fossils, including Chondrites seen in this bedding-plane view on the top of a block. Chondrites was made by small animals mining the sediments for deposited organic material.

4 Caleb block side viewThe trace fossils cut down into the siltstone, seen here in side view. The tunnels are filled with a clay-rich sediment that weathers a lighter color, giving us this contrast.

5 Caleb turbiditeMany of the blocks show a turbidite-like structure, with coarse shelly debris at the base and cross-bedded siltstone above. This may mean that the deep-waters that accumulated the clays to make the gray Rochester Shale were occasionally disturbed by massive turbidity flows of a sediment-water slurry. Were these triggered by storms or seismic events connected to orogenies to the east?

6 Caleb block stone in placeBecause of the recent excavations at Caleb’s Quarry, we were able to see this persistent calcareous siltstone in its stratigraphic context. It is here marked by the hammer. Note the gray shales above and below.

With this last observation, our fieldwork is officially done!

7 Paper pulp factory Lockport CaveDuring the afternoon we again visited the Erie Canal locks in Lockport. This time we took a tour of “Lockport Cave”, which is really a set of tunnels dug in the mid-19th century to channel river water through “races” to power factories. It is quite an ingenious use of hydropower before electricity. Above are the remains of the last of these water-powered factories, a paper pulp mill.

8 Lockport Cave entranceWe entered the main tunnel through a massive pipe that used to bring fast-flowing water to water wheels in the paper factory. The pipe is eight feet in diameter, and the water flowed at about 12 miles per hour.

9 Lockport Cave entrance pipeThis is the only one of my interior photos to succeed. The place was fascinating, even if it was cool, damp and dark. The trip included a short underground boat ride along a narrow water channel.

10 Upside-down railroad bridgeFinally, just because it is cool, here is the Lockport Railroad Bridge over the Erie Canal. It is called “the upside-down bridge” because the trusses are underneath the tracks. The legend is that the railroad company built the bridge this way to limit the height of boats on the canal, thus limiting its competition for cargo transport!

Return to the Silurian of New York

August 8th, 2015

1 Cichorium intybus SR 93 585LOCKPORT, NEW YORK (August 8, 2015) — Andrej and I began some deep collecting of Silurian localities in the Lockport area today in our survey of the bryozoan and sclerobiont faunas. The sites are, shall we say, not the most attractive, so let’s start with this common but gorgeous flower along the roadsides in western New York: Cichorium intybus (chicory). It is an invasive perennial from Europe that now has a global distribution. It has its uses as a coffee substitute, livestock feed, and salad stock. I love the color and serrated leaves.

2 Andrej Hickory CornersAnd here is why we lead with a flower. Andrej Ernst is sorting through samples from the Hickory Corners locality on State Route 93 in Lockport. The fossiliferous limestone here is the Hickory Corners Member of the Reynales Formation (Lower Silurian, Aeronian). The bryozoans are wonderfully diverse, and the top of the unit is a bored carbonate hardground. We happily collected here most of the morning, despite the trash and traffic.

3 Lewiston B beds Niagara RoadWe returned to a site along railroad tracks at Niagara Street in Lockport to collect from the Lewiston Member, part B, of the Rochester Shale. Again, the bryozoans here are fantastic, including my new favorite, a delicate cyclostome named Diploclema.

4 Lewiston E Burleigh Hill Shale LaFarge QuarryOur last site of the day was along the entrance road to a quarry. With all the surrounding rock, the only fossiliferous horizon is exposed in a shallow drainage cut in the road itself. Andrej is pulling a few bryozoans from the top of Lewiston Member, part E, of the Rochester Shale. The thick shales above him are the Burleigh Hill Formation.

5 Erie Canal at LockportWhen our work was done for the day, we became tourists and visited the Erie Canal locks in Lockport. (Hence the name!) This is a view looking east from the bottom of the two-lock sequence. We wanted to see the locks actually transport a boat, but it was a slow Saturday afternoon.

6 Erie Canal Lock LockportA view of the massive doors upstream of one of the modern locks. The engineering feats here date back to the early 1820s.

7 Crinoidal cross-sets Erie CanalGeology is evident here too. This is a block of crinoidal limestone showing cross-stratification. Many of the older buildings in Lockport are made of Silurian stone excavated to create the Erie Canal.

Into the Niagara Gorge

August 6th, 2015

1 Lewiston-Queenston Bridge 080615LOCKPORT, NEW YORK (August 6, 2015) — It holds one of the strongest river currents in the world, the gorge of the Niagara River below Niagara Falls. That tremendous flow has cut a deep canyon through the Silurian rocks of the region, providing a superb opportunity for geologists to see the local stratigraphy and paleontology. Today our team walked into the gorge from Lewiston, New York, to explore the section. Carl Brett was our guide. Above is a view of the gorge at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge that joins the USA on the right with Canada on the left. The forests are plenty dense, but there are rocks in those steep walls.

2 Gorge trailWe hiked along the Gorge Trail on the USA side upriver from Lewiston. The trail is actually an old road built for transport of construction materials used for the hydroelectric dams upriver.

3 Gorge block 080615We learned most of the geological context by examining fallen blocks along the trail. This was an interesting way to see the stratigraphy because the different formations dropped blocks randomly along the path.

4 AE080615I tried to get a surreptitious picture of my German colleague Andrej Ernst.

5 Grimsby crossbedsThe Grimsby Formation (Lower Silurian, Llandoverian) is a sandstone that has numerous sedimentary structures, including nice cross-sets.

6 Kinneyia Grimsby Niagara GorgeAndrej found this nice specimen of an enigmatic feature called Kinneyia. It may be a function of gas build-up underneath microbial mats on the ancient seafloor. I’ve always called it “elephant skin”.

7 Niagara Gorge section 080615A view of the gorge wall above us.

8 Rochester collecting Niagara GorgeWhen the trail reached the Rochester Shale, we spent some time searching it for fossils. The most common finds were cystoids (especially Caryocrinites) and the odd coronoid Stephanocrinus.

9 Andrej Carl 080615Andrej Ernst and Carl Brett on the Rochester Shale outcrop in the Niagara Gorge. Andrej noted many neglected bryozoans in the fossil fauna exposed here.

10 Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating StationsOur final stop was opposite the Sir Adam Beck Hydroelectric Generating Stations built on the Canadian side of the gorge. It is an awesome feat of engineering, and a prodigious amount of concrete.

We had an excellent time in the Niagara Gorge. I was at last able to see some of the nuances of Silurian stratigraphy that Carl Brett was explaining. As you can see, the weather was ideal.

We said goodbye to Carl at the end of the day as he departed for fieldwork in nearby southern Ontario.


Wooster Geologist in New York

August 5th, 2015

1 Calebs Quarry 080515LOCKPORT, NEW YORK (August 5, 2015) — What looks like an ordinary commercial quarry above is actually quite unusual. It is an excavation done entirely by amateur paleontologists (“citizen scientists”) to collect and preserve fossils from the Rochester Shale (Upper Silurian, Wenlockian). The story of Caleb’s Quarry is well told in the linked American Museum of Natural History article. It is near Lockport, New York, and one of the most famous fossil sites in the region. I’m lucky to be here.

This late summer expedition to New York is to help my German friend Andrej Ernst (University of Hamburg/University of Kiel) collect bryozoans from the Rochester Shale. This bryofauna is inadequately described for phylogenetic and biogeographic analyses, so Andrej has a grant to do the deed from outcrop sampling to preparation, analysis and publication. While assisting Andrej, I am also scouting out new localities for future geology Senior Independent Study projects at Wooster. We will be in Niagara and Erie Counties for a week doing this work.

2 CarlCalebsAbsolutely critical to the project is the field advice and direction of Carl Brett (University of Cincinnati). Carl is without peer when it comes to many paleontological and geological topics, but for the Silurian of New York he is one of the gods. Carl grew up in the region and has been studying the rocks and fossils since he was a young teenager. He gave us two days of magnificent stratigraphic instruction, and he introduced us to the amateur team digging at Caleb’s Quarry. We were also joined for three days by Brian Bade, a citizen scientist from Ohio with an extraordinary passion for fossils, along with deep knowledge and appreciation for how science works.

3 FredandCarlCalebsFred Barber, one of the excavators at Caleb’s Quarry, is here showing Carl Brett magnificent crinoids collected from this locality.

4 Crinoid Calebs 080515The gray shale matrix is homogenous and soft enough to be removed from the fossil by an expert preparator. This crinoid shows outstanding preservation down to the pinnules on its arms.

5 Bryozoan Calebs reconstructedOf course, Andrej and I are most interested in the bryozoans from Caleb’s Quarry. Here is a beautiful specimen that has been carefully reconstructed.

6 StriispiriferCalebsI found these brachiopod-rich beds intriguing. Striispirifer is a new name to me.

7 DalmanTriloCalebsTrilobites are always the stars of Paleozoic fossil sites like this. While we were at the quarry we watched one of the excavators (Kent Smith) unearth this gorgeous specimen. I believe it is Dalmanites limulurus.

8 ChondritesCalebsThe trace fossils here are very interesting. There may be project possibilities with this ichnofauna because of the diversity present at the quarry and the bedding plane exposures. This is the trace fossil Chondrites.

9 Jungle Jeddo tributaryAfter our quarry visit today we then stopped at some other exposures of the Rochester Shale. This scene shows what fieldwork is like without quarries and roadcuts! We are here along a tributary of Jeddo Creek, at the top of Lewiston Member B of the Rochester Shale. Hard to tell, eh?

10 Brian Jeddo Tributary Lewiston BHere Brian Bade is examining a deeply weathered section along the creek. Years ago Carl Brett took advantage of this disaggregation of the Rochester Shale to sieve the sediment for small fossils. He has generously given us the “washings” from this cut, which represent months of his work as a graduate student. They are loaded with tiny bryozoan bits, along with many other taxa.

11 Cherokee UnconformityWe ended the day with a look at several other outcrops in the Lockport area. The impressive contact here between the massive sandstone and the underlying red shales is called the Cherokee Unconformity. It is a megasequence boundary correlated across most of North America. It was thought until recently to be the Ordovician-Silurian boundary, but now all you see in this image is considered latest Ordovician.


Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A Silurian encrinite from southwestern Ohio

May 22nd, 2015

BrassfieldEncrinite585_041915The above rock was collected on our Sedimentology & Stratigraphy class field trip last month. It is an average piece of weathered Brassfield Formation (Early Silurian, Llandovery) from Oakes Quarry Park near Fairborn, Ohio (N 39.81472°, W 83.99471°). It is made almost entirely of crinoid fragments, and has a pleasant pinkish hue, most of which comes from the crinoid bits themselves. If you look closely you can see crinoid thecal plate fragments as well columnals and pluricolumnals.

This kind of limestone in which echinoderm ossicles make up the bulk of the grains is known as an encrinite. I first learned about encrinites from my colleague Bill Ausich of The Ohio State University, who has written the best assessments of encrinites on a regional scale. Encrinites are well-washed biosparite grainstones typically deposited between fair weather and storm wave bases on shallow shelves in low latitudes. They are surprisingly common from the Ordovician into the Jurassic, but then the disappear from the rock record as crinoids declined in abundance in shallow environments.

We’ve seen encrinites before in this blog from the Silurian of Estonia, the Triassic of Poland, and the Jurassic of Utah.


Ausich, W.I. 1986. Early Silurian inadunate crinoids (Brassfield Formation, Ohio). Journal of Paleontology 60: 719-735.

Ausich, W.I. 1997. Regional encrinites: a vanished lithofacies. In: Paleontological events: stratigraphic, ecologic and evolutionary implications, p. 509-519. Columbia University Press, New York.

Ausich, W.I. and Deline, B. 2012. Macroevolutionary transition in crinoids following the Late Ordovician extinction event (Ordovician to Early Silurian). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 361: 38-48.

Hunter, A.W. and Zonneveld, J.P. 2008. Palaeoecology of Jurassic encrinites: reconstructing crinoid communities from the Western Interior Seaway of North America. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 263: 58-70.

Tang, C.M., Bottjer, D.J. and Simms, M.J. 2000. Stalked crinoids from a Jurassic tidal deposit in western North America. Lethaia 33: 46-54.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A ptilodictyine bryozoan from the Silurian of Ohio

May 15th, 2015

Phaenopora superba Brassfield 585The fossil above was found by Luke Kosowatz (’17) on our Sedimentology & Stratigraphy class field trip last month. We were measuring and sampling the Brassfield Formation (Early Silurian, Llandovery) near Fairborn, Ohio, and Luke pulled this beauty out of the rubble. This limestone is full of echinoderms and corals, so this lonely bryozoan was immediately a star.
Peela 050815This is the specimen that we sectioned and made an acetate peel from last month. The interior view, shown above, was critical to its identification. This peel was made perpendicular to the surface. It shows that the bryozoan is bifoliate, meaning it has two sides with zooids (the filter-feeding bryozoan polypides) and stood upright on the seafloor like a fan or leaf. Both sides had the characteristic bumps called monticules.
Phaenopora closerThe next critical view is this close-up of a slightly weathered surface of the bryozoan. It shows a regular arrangement of the larger zooecia (autozooecia) with two smaller zoooecia (metazooecia) between each pair. These clues enabled my friend Andrej Ernst, a paleontologist and bryozoan expert in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Hamburg, to identify this bryozoan as the ptilodictyine Phaenopora superba (Billings, 1866).
CNSPhoto-GEOLOGISTElkanah Billings (1820-1876) originally described this bryozoan species in 1866. He was Canada’s first government paleontologist, and he very much looked the part. Billings was born on a farm near Ottawa. He went to law school and became a lawyer in 1845, but he gave up dusty books for the life of a field paleontologist. In 1856 Billings joined the Geological Survey of Canada. He named over a thousand new species in his career. The Billings Medal is given annually by the Geological Association of Canada to the most outstanding of its paleontologists.


Billings, E. 1866. Catalogues of the Silurian fossils of the island of Anticosti: with descriptions of some new genera and species. Dawson brothers.

Ross, J.P. 1960. Larger cryptostome Bryozoa of the Ordovician and Silurian, Anticosti Island, Canada: Part I. Journal of Paleontology 34: 1057-1076.

Ross, J.P. 1961. Larger cryptostome Bryozoa of the Ordovician and Silurian, Anticosti Island, Canada: Part II. Journal of Paleontology 35: 331-344.

A beautiful day for Wooster Geologists in the Silurian of Ohio

April 18th, 2015

aDSC_5072FAIRBORN, OHIO–It’s field trip season at last for the Wooster Geologists. Several geology classes have now been out in Ohio, taking advantage of windows of spectacular weather. Today was one of those days for 25 students in the Sedimentology & Stratigraphy class. We returned to the Oakes Quarry Park exposures in southwestern Ohio (N 39.81472°, W 83.99471°). Three years ago here in April it was 37°F and raining. This year the conditions were perfect. We studied outcrops of the Brassfield Formation (Early Silurian, Llandovery) in the old quarry walls. The students measured stratigraphic columns of these fossiliferous biosparites as part of an exercise, and then explored the glacially-truncated top of the unit.

bDSC_5079The Brassfield is intensely fossiliferous. Large portions of it are virtually made of crinoid fragments. In the random view above you can see columnals, as well as a few calyx plates. This is why this unit is very popular among my echinodermologist friends at Ohio State.

DSC_5056Kevin Komara, Brian Merritt and Dan Misinay (Team Football) are here contemplating the quarry wall, planning how to measure their sections.

DSC_5063One of our Teaching Assistants, Sarah Bender, is here pointing out one of the many thin intercalated clay units in the Brassfield biosparites.

DSC_5065Fellow Californian Michael Williams directed the action. No, actually he’s doing the time-honored technique of following a measured unit with his finger as he finds a place he can safely climb to it and the units above. He is holding one of our measuring tools, a Jacob’s Staff. Why do we call them “Jacob’s Staffs”? Read Genesis 30:25-43. (Yes, today’s students are mystified by Biblical references.)

DSC_5066Here’s Rachel Wetzel, giving me a heart attack. Don’t worry, insurance companies and parents, she’s fine.

DSC_5068Rachel is again on the left. Team Ultimate Frisbee (Meredith Mann and Mae Kemsley) are in the front, and Sharron Ostermann is above. This is the recommended way to get to the top of the exposure!

DSC_5070We carried our lunches in “to go” boxes from the dining hall. Our Teaching Assistants Sarah Bender and Kaitlin Starr enjoyed a sunny picnic on the rocks.

yDSC_5077The top level of the quarry was cleared of soil and brush many years ago to expose a glacially truncated and polished surface of the Brassfield. Looking for glacial grooves and fossils here are (from the left) Tom Dickinson, Jeff Gunderson (another Californian!), Andrew Conaway, and Luke Kosowatz (who seems to also be making a little pile of rocks as a memorial to a great day).

zDSC_5074One of the many corals we found in the top of the Brassfield was this halysitid (“chain coral”), an indicator fossil for the Late Ordovician and Silurian.

Everyone returned safely to Wooster with their completed stratigraphic columns, lithological descriptions, and a few fossils. Thank you to Mark Livengood, our bus driver. Good luck to the other field trip groups later this month!

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