LOCKPORT, 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.
Absolutely 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.
Trilobites 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.
The 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.
After 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?
Here 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.
We 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.