Bank Collecting By Marc Behrendt
material predominates eastern Ohio's surface formations. Amazingly,
fossiliferous locations are few and far between, considering the size of the
area involved. Strip mining for coal and limestone is a major industry in
these areas. Old strip mines are commonly seen offering opportunities to
investigate large amounts of material; however most operators are hesitant
to allow collecting in their quarries. Permission is often acquired if the
collecting efforts are to be centered on spoil banks, typically far away
from any walls or pits.
I have permission in 2 such quarries. They are very different, both in
design and material, however each yields enormous opportunity to find
quality specimens, including complete Pennsylvanian trilobites such as
The first quarry I received permission
to collect is a coal mine group with many strip mines in operation. On this
rare occasion I was allowed to collect in an active quarry! I noticed
several old dump piles along an old driveway. I found nothing in the quarry,
but during the day as I spoke with the foreman, I discovered the dump piles
were dumped long ago, when the operation first began.
first step was to assess the site's quality and collectability. Surface
collecting can be a real boon if nobody has collected the pile recently.
Also, flaky shale requires a bottle of superglue to be nearby. Newer
material will be harder and more stable.
examination, I found dozens of Euphamites gastropods lying atop the piles,
many bigger than golf balls. Weathered coiled cephalopod pieces littered the
ground everywhere. I got on my hands and knees and surface collected for the
entire day. Later, after several phone calls, I was given permission to
collect those piles any time, which the manager had absolutely no problem
with since they were far away from any active mining or equipment activity.
My return trips have yielded many gastropod species. Brachiopods abounded,
although quality was, at first, a problem due to weathering. I consistently
found trilobite parts, driving me to return time and again, determined to
find an intact trilobite.
My fifth trip to the piles was the
clincher. I'd pretty well cleaned up the exposed fossils, and had begun
splitting shale. I learned which type shale held the most promise. This
shale was very hard, and had barely weathered. Every split yielded some type
of fossil with excellent preservation.
All morning into the
afternoon I split shale. My body was in a rhythm, and my mind eased into
blissful numbness. I may as well have touched a live wire, for my brain
leapt into instant shock as I looked at a piece I had just split open. There
rested a complete, flat, perfectly laid out, inch-long Ditomopyge in all its
perfect glory. The genal spines were safely in the negative, and all parts
were present and accounted for. I carefully stabilized the bug and packed it
up for transport. Continuing into the slab, 2 splits later, there was
another Ditomopyge cepahlon with the first thoracic segment leading into the
matrix. Yet another trilobite, disarticulated but complete, set my adrenal
glands on high. I was ecstatic!
From an old scrap pile of
long ago discarded rock, I have built a very respectable Pennsylvanian
fossil collection. I've found no echinoderms besides occasional crinoid
stems, but I'll bet one eventually turns up. So far I have collected
trilobites, both straight and coiled cephalopods, brach's, bivalves,
gastropods, conularids, coral, bryozoa, and trace fossils. All from an old
Recently I had the fortune to acquire permission
to collect at a local quarry. The rules were I could only collect when the
operation was shut down, usually in the evenings and on Sundays. This mine
sought limestone. All coal and shale was dumped into the center of the pit.
This strip mine continually moved, one side being exposed while the opposite
was reclaimed; fresh material was present every day.
material was a bit harder to find here. The quarry manager stated he'd seen
days when "shells" sparkled in the sunlight, that the rock was loaded with
them. The days I chose to collect were not those sparkly days. Pennsylvanian
plant fragments were very common. One slab of limestone contained the
impression of a Lepidodendron trunk about 3 inches in diameter and 3 feet
long. My invertebrate interests kept me moving. Finally I located the type
of rock which held the marine invertebrates. It was a very odd green color,
locating the correct shale just became very simple.
Gastropod molds and small brach's coated the shale surfaces. I found 2
pieces of trilobites, probably Paladin, but nothing more. I continue to
check these piles out since they do change daily. The time will come when a
pocket of quality marine fossils will be unearthed, and I want to be there
when it happens.
Spoil banks offer very productive and
relaxing places to collect. The rock is usually in manageable sizes and
splits easily. Permission may be granted to collect a spoil bank when no
quarry collecting is the rule. Always ask permission and follow the quarry's
instruction, and you may be headed for a new unexpected honeyhole.