Penn Dixie, NY - Famous for its Trilobites... but not only that.

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Penn Dixie is located on the outskirts of a subdivision just on the edge of the town of Hamburg, a suburb of Buffalo, NY. Directions to the site can be found on the website link which is given below. Upon arriving you can park your car in a spacious parking lot and walk to the small administration hut at the entrance where you are greeted by the friendly volunteer workers who provide you with the information you are seeking and where you pay your entrance fee of 7 dollars. If you're lucky, you'll meet Jerry Bastedo there, the executive director of the Hamburger Natural History Society (HMHS) which runs the place, who will enthusiastically answer any questions you may have.


1.1 kopie

The entrance.



There's Jerry talking to some school children.


The site is known well on a local, regional, national and even international level, and receives regular visits from busloads of school children, geology and paleontology students and their teachers, experts in those fields and of course hobby collectors from all over the world. On the day of my first visit there this past summer there were over a hundred visitors including school children and their teachers, a good number of interested families and last but not least, a homeopathic dosis of serious hobby collectors, including yours truly and my friend Malcolm. The horde of people didn't bother us at all, however, since there's more than enough room for everybody to crawl about the scree piles in the fossil pit. Quite to the contrary, it was nice to be able to be helpful to the little ones who were wanting to know if they'd found anything valuable.


Once Malcolm and myself had paid our fees and had a chat with Jerry, we made our way down to the fossil pit.



View over the property with the provisional education center/picnic shelter in the background, and behind that the fossil pit.


The property encompasses 54 acres, of which the fossil collecting area makes up only a small part. The HMHS has been in the process of developing this site for almost 2 decades and has developed educational programs and other services for the community not only on the subjects of geology and paleontology, but also on ornithology, astronomy and the local fauna. There is also a network of nature paths leading around the property and particularly through a wetland biotope which is situated there. I was quite impressed with the amount of activity which has been and still is being put into developing this site, particularly since the majority of the work is done by volunteers and most of the financing for the projects is reliant on private and corporate donations. Jerry informed me that they are now beginning a new drive to raise funds for a proper education center building and for a boardwalk through the wetlands. This ambitious new project, when realized, should really enhance the outstanding work which is already being done there for the community. Just click on „The next step“ at the bottom of the website for more information. They could use all the support they can get.

But let's get back to the fossils, which are our main subject here. Here is a view of a small part of the fossil pit.



Like I said, the hordes were scattered all over. There are certainly enough stones for the kids to scrutinize.


Most of the visitors were busy digging through the scree, but Malcolm and I were more interested in tackling a particular layer which lies exposed at the top of the pit. This block row of relatively hard and limey mudstone lies between layers of soft shale and is called the Smoke Creek Trilobite Bed. This trilobite-rich horizon lies within the Windom Shale Member of the Moscow Formation, which in turn belongs to the Givet stage of the Middle Devonian period. It is famous in particular for the extremely well preserved and articulated finds of Eldredgeops rana and the occasional Greenops sp. or other rarities, along with numerous rugose corals, brachiopodes, gastropodes and other fauna.
We were hoping that with a bit of perseverence and a lot of luck, we might be able to find some nice samples.



Malcolm is wondering where we should get started...



... and now we've decided.



The trick is to split the blocks carefully once you've pried them out, and after 2 hours of levering and splitting...



... this fell out. What a lucky split!


I let go a shout, Malcolm let go a shout and Jerry came running over along with a horde of school children and a good number of people of various sizes who all ooohed and aaahed just like Malcolm and I were doing. Needless to say that made my day!

It's now been almost a month since I was there and I've had a few weeks at home to take the time to prepare the finds, which I can now display here, beginning with some views of the find of the day. 2 of the prone Eldredgeops rana are complete. Along with the other inarticulated parts (molts?) can be seen a number of rugose corals belonging to the species Amplexiphyllum hamiltoniae as well as what I believe to be the brachiopode Spinocyrtia granulosa. The block measures 22 x 13 x 6 cm.








Eldredgeops rana. 1 prone, 1 enrolled. With A. hamiltoniae and the brachiopod Spirifer sp., 7 x 5.5 cm.



Eldredgeops rana. 3 „Rollies“, the largest of which is 2 cm in breadth.



Stereolasma rectum are the larger corals measuring up to 3.5 cm.



On the reverse side of the previous block: A. hamiltoniae.




A really neat little coral: Pleurodictyum americanum, 22 mm.



Rear view of the above.



S. rectum, 4 cm.



A view of the septa.



The gastropod Platyceras sp., 13 mm.



Nestled along the bottom of the coral is the bryozoa Hederella sp.



The brachiopodes Mucrospirifer consobrinus. The largest is 3 cm wide.



Rhipodomella sp., 2 cm.



Athyris spiriferoides, 2 cm.



Pseudatrypa devoniana, the largest being 2.5 cm wide.


In closing, I would still like to tell a little about the history and development of Penn Dixie.

A quarry was started there during the 1960s and was only in operation for roughly 10 years. Word spread quickly that fossiliferous layers were being exposed and after the quarry was closed, it was still being visited regularly by collectors and researchers. The property changed owners over the decades and it wasn't always possible to enter the site. As the years went on it deteriorated more and more to a place for dune buggies, parties and garbage disposal and collectors were sometimes more busy ducking off-road vehicles and avoiding broken glass as they were at finding fossils. Finally the HMHS was founded in 1996 and was able with the help of the local town council to aquire the property for its purposes. Here is a list of some of the things which were removed from the site during the cleanup in those days: over 300 tires, 5 abandoned cars, 2 boats, 1 motorcycle, a golf cart, a snowmobile and five 30-yard dumpsters of garbage and debris.
Since then, the society hasn't looked back and is improving the facility step by step in an ongoing fashion. Like I wrote above, they can use all the help they can get and members get in for free! I can at least highly recommend a visit if you happen to get over to there. Just get in touch with them beforehand and they'll be happy to help you:


Roger Furze

PS as an afterthought: The town of Hamburg NY claims to be the birthplace of the Hamburger. Now isn't that something? I always assumed it originated in Germany, but those Americans were always quite inventive, weren't they?