FOSSIL Project / Dry Dredgers Mini-Conference Field Trips

Thursday, June 2, Friday June 3 and Sunday June 5, 2016

Report and photos by Bill Heimbrock

In June 2016, the Dry Dredgers and the FOSSIL Project along with the Cincinnati Museum Center and the University of Cincinnati Geology Dept. held a mini-conference on paleontology. This was a well organized gathering of fossil clubs and professional paleontologists from around the country with the goal to foster collaborative efforts between amateur and professional paleontologists.

This was a landmark meeting in every sense of the term. The Dry Dredgers have long been known for their history of amateur paleontology. Now the FOSSIL Project, based at the Florida Museum of Natural History, and funded by the National Science Foundation, is cultivating a networked community in which amateur and professional paleontologists collaborate in the practice of science, and outreach.

The entire conference was free to those who registered on This was an excellent opportunity for anyone wanting to learn more about fossils and fossil sites near Cincinnati, Ohio.

Our conference consisted of three days of field trips (Thursday, Friday and Sunday) and one day of meetings (Saturday). Sounds good to me.

Thursday's field trip was to Big Bone Lick. Glenn Storrs the vertebrate curator of the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Science gave an in-depth tour of the park and the history behind this historic site. 30 people attended the tour.

For Friday and Sunday's field trips, the Fossil Project rented four vans in which most attendees road from site to site. Dr. Carl Brett of the University of Cincinnati led these field trips and provided an excellent talk at each location describing the stratigraphy, the fossils and the paleoecology. In these two days we covered the entire Cincinnatian Series using stratigraphy across two states - Indiana and Kentucky.

Kyle Hartshorn, in conjunction with Jack Kallmeyer and Carl Brett, provided an excellent and thorough guide book (shown below) titled "Dry Dredgers the Cincinnati Arch" which covered every aspect of Cincinnati paleontology and the sites we were visiting.

Friday June 3, 2016: Northeastern Kentucky

Friday was dedicated to sites in Northeastern Kentucky. We first met at 6 am at the Radison Hotel in Covington, KY and proceeded to a nearby parking lot big enough for us to all park our cars and load into the rented vans. Dr. Dave Meyer of the University of Cincinnati Geology Dept supplied the donuts, which we enjoyed.

Site 1: Edenian Stage and Maysvillian Stage

Our first stop was a huge road cut in Mason County, Kentucky. We started at the bottom of the cut in the Kope Formation. It had rained overnight and the site was pretty muddy and slippery. So we didn't climb up on the ledges to fossil hunt. But Dr. Carl Brett kept us together with an informative and enlightening talk on the layers exposed. Here are a few great photos.

Dr. Ben Dattilo acted as a marker as Carl Brett pointed to specific layers.

Carl Brett shows off some Rusophycus Ichnofossils found on this site and allows photo opportunities.

Other attendees were quick to find actual Flexicalymene sp. trilobites. The one below being examined by Dr. Carl Brett is inverted.

I was able to find a nice set of trace fossils that may be trilobites burrowing as they fed.

Other trace fossils made by worms and other animals were also found that day.


Chuck Ferrara, president of the Southwest Florida Fossil Society, examines large scale ripple marks that were once at the bottom of the sea in Late Ordovician times (450 million years ago).

It certainly was a meeting of the minds, which is precisely one of the goals of the conference. Here's Dr. Carl Brett (UC) discussing details of the site with Dr. Tony Martin of Emory College of Arts and Science while numerous onlooking amateur paleontologists listen and learn.

After exploring the Kope Formation, the vans moved up to the part of the road that exposed the Fairview Formation. We hiked up to that location and began looking for the unique fossil fauna of the Fairview.

By this time, we were ready for lunch. We were taken to a nearby park where subs from Subway were waiting for us. Thanks to President Jack Kallmeyer for fetching it. (This was a free lunch BTW).

Friday Site 2: Corryville and Mount Auburn members of the Grant Lake Formation

The site for Friday afternoon picked up about where we the morning's site left off - climbing up the strata and through time. Once again Dr. Carl Brett gave us a guided tour of the site and what we can find here.


The first thing Carl pointed out to us was that we could find abundant quantities of an algae "Solenopora," which appeared as wrinkled brains littering the tallus.

This algae coated particles to form Oncolites and also began to coat nautiloid cephalopod shells as seen in the next 2 photos.

Dr. Brett also pointed out a layer rich in Stromatoporoids.(next 4 pics)

Some of the forms similar to the "brain algae Solenopora" and the Stromatoporoids were actually massive trepostomate bryozoans like the one I found shown below (next 2 pics).

As we ascended up the strata, Dr. Brett pointed out a gastropod layer.

Here are a couple of the gastropods I found loose in the talus near this gastropod layer.

Eventually we found ourselves in the Arnheim. Here we began to find the first occurrences of the brachiopod  Leptaena sp.

Other brachiopods found included Vinlandostrophia sp.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

For Sunday, we toured southeastern Indiana. Here we picked up where we left off on Friday and continued up the strata from the Maysvillian Stage into the Richmondian Stage of the Cincinnatian Series. We started off at 6 am again, the same way we had on Friday morning and loaded into vans. The very thorough field guidebook Kyle Hartshorn had prepared indicated we would hit three Indiana sites today.

Site 1: Bellevue, Corryville and Mt. Auburn members of the Grant Lake Formation

For our first site of Sunday was a roadside hill exposure in Switzerland County Indiana. Kyle Hartshorn of the Dry Dredgers began the tour, explaining where different types of fossils could be found. This site was a lot of fun. Brachiopods were super abundant, particularly Vinlandostrophia ponderosa, V. laticosta, V. cypha, Rafinesquina ponderosa and Hebertella occidentalis.  

The consistent theme on this site, based on the fossils we saw was that we had a long period at this location about 445 million years ago without a lot of calcareous mud sediment being deposited. At the bottom of the hill, Dr. Ben Dattilo and I examined a phosphate-rich sediment full of internal molds of snails, clams, byrozoans and negative impressions of shell surfaces. This was the subject of his and my recent paper in the March issue of Palaios. And here it was to see at the top of the Fairview and the bottom of the Bellevue.

But it was Kyle Hartshorn who found the smoking gun. On the surface of one slab loaded with phosphatic steinkerns (1st photo below), there was a tiny structure that had been identified years ago but only recently documented (second photo). It's the negative impression of the surfaces of a bivalve hinge dentition. This was the "Mystery Fossil" that I had puzzled over for decades.  The red block in the first photo indicates the frame of the second photo.

As we moved up the hill we began to find lots of the brachiopod Rafinesquina ponderosa (next 3 pics).

Even more abundant were the ponderously large brachiopod Vinlandostrophia ponderosa.

This site was also loaded with inarticulate brachiopods inhabiting the surfaces of articulate brachiopods. If you look closely at the next articulate brachiopod, you'll see an inarticulate brachiopod on it. The inarticulate is Petrocrania scabiosa.

Here's another articulate brachiopod that these inarticulates were inhabiting - Hebertella sp.

Even the bryozoans showed evidence of epifauna. Check out the surface of this trepostomate bryozoan full of holes probably associated with Trypanites.

Nautiloid cephalopods were not abundant on this site, but a few fragments were found, like the internal mold below.

Sunday Site 2: The Richmondian Stage and Lower Silurian

As our tour progresses up the stratigraphic column, we take the vans to our second site, a big road cut in Jefferson County, Indiana.

Once again, Dry Dredger Kyle Hartshorn begins the site tour with information on the strata and what can be found.

Dr. Carl Brett was also on hand to give us a level of insight that only he can.

This site has been studied before, as evidenced by the markings on the rock layers.

A layer at the top of the Liberty formation is comprised largely of bivalves. Here's one I found.

Higher on this site, we found the Saluda member of the Whitewater formation. This layer is known for coral. We saw a four meter-thick layer of big fat coral heads. Here is one colonial coral that was found in the talus (1st photo) and some horn coral called Grewingkia canadensis (2nd photo).

Dr. Carl Brett pointed out to us that some of these dark bands in the Saluda Dolomite of this site represent monthly tidal cycles. This is an amazing record of small scale time where normally rocks represent thousands of years of time. (next 2 photos).

Sunday Site 3: The Richmondian Stage

After a nice lunch in a park overlooking the Ohio River, we went to a huge road cut in  Dearborn County, Indiana that the Dry Dredgers have visited many times. This is the site where we look in the large shale ledge for the tiny trilobite Flexicalymene retrorsa minuens.

A couple of attendees did find these trilobites. But despite the recent rains, not everyone did. I personally found a decent variety of clam internal molds. This first one has enough markings to tell it's probably Ambonychia sp.

This next one, showing both sides of the shell looks like Modiolopsis sp.

And this last one is probably a worn specimen of Caritodens sp.

No crinoid calyxes were found as far as I know, but plenty of stems like the ones shown below were found.

As for brachiopods, more than a dozen varieties of brachs can be found on this site. I picked up just two. The first is a single valve of Plaesiomys subquadratus.

And here is a Hebertella sp. from the site.

That's all I have for the FOSSIL Project Cincinnati Mini-conference! There are too many people to thank that they can't be listed here. But I would like to thank the team of the Fossil Project, Jack Kallmeyer and Kyle Hartshorn of the Dry Dredgers and Dr. Carl Brett of the U.C. Geology Dept for making these field trips very worthwhile. And a special thanks to Dr. Dave Meyer for those delicious donuts and coffee.

Read more about the Cincinnati Mini-Conference in Jack Kallmeyer's report on

Now let's take a look at our September 2016 field trip to Southeast Kentucky

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