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NOT another Florida fossil hunt (Sulphur, Indiana)


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Tammy and I made our first post-pandemic roadtrip and we went to Chicago to see family. Decided to drive as I was not yet comfortable with airports and airplanes. I had hoped to visit a site in southern Illinois where blastoids used to be plentiful and easy to find. Sadly, that site was mistreated and is no longer available. :wacko: Members here on the forum suggested several alternatives which should produce the blastoids that I longed to hunt for. We found that the large (and well known) roadcut just north of Sulphur, Indiana was along the route (kind of) on our return trip and so it was added to the itinerary.

 

We drove down from a last lunch in Chicago's Chinatown and crossed Indiana to check into a hotel in a small town just west of Louisville, Kentucky. The plan was to drive west to visit this Chesterian (Late Mississippian) site and see what we could find. We got up early, refueled, and had a quick breakfast since we planned on returning to the hotel and cleaning-up before the 11am checkout time.

 

The morning proved to be much more overcast than the preceding evening. Things weren't looking promising as we were getting out to the site. You can see in the photos that the sky did not show promise of cooperating with us and the pelting rain along the highway was less than encouraging.

 

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The rain had slowed to a light drizzle and we arrived at the roadcut which provided nice wide shoulders to pull off the road a safe distance. Tammy decided she'd let me do the scouting and see if it was worth leaving the dry warmth of the car and so she stayed behind with her tablet to entertain her while I made good use of my raincoat.

 

It took a while to find a good access point to climb up the first and lowest wall of this stepped roadcut. I walked most of the way down the road only to see the wall get taller and less accessible. I crossed over the road and walked back the way I had come till I found an opening. The rock face would have been easier to scale had it not all become quite slick from the rain. Once up on the first terrace level I walked along till I spotted a means of climbing up another level. I was headed up to the loose talus slope between the second and third levels. Along the way I spotted what I believe might be the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)--the shell patterns seem to be quite variable on this species but I'm sure @Tidgy's Dad could confirm or refute.

 

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When I finally started seeing crinoid stem segments and a number of small rugose corals I knew I had found the level I was looking for. It didn't take too long to spot the first blastoid looking like a pentagonally symmetrical marble. Most of the little Pentremites sp. blastoids were in the pea to garbanzo size range. Many of them were loose but a few were still attached to a chunk of the matrix.

 

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I spotted a little piece of the matrix that looked to be peppered with a bunch of semi-articulated plates from what I'm guessing is a crinoid calyx. This needs further inspection with the aid of some magnification. I took some in situ shots of my finds as I figured I'd probably write a post on this site. I selected a number of the nicer finds and upon review of the images I noticed that had missed things that I could clearly see in the images. I was so focused on developing the blastoid search image (rounded items with the pentagonally V-notched edge on the top) that I forgot that the Archimedes screw shaped bryozoans were also here. You can clearly see an Archimedes screw bryozoan actually touching the blastoid I picked up--talk about tunnel vision. :blink::P

 

https://www.uky.edu/KGS/fossils/fossil-month-09-2018-Archimedes.php

 

 

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The clouds were starting to break up and a little increase in light levels was welcome to aid the search. I could just barely see the car where Tammy was through the dense trees that cover this roadcut. I had tried to call her to let her know I hadn't fallen on my noggin yet but our cell phone reception was pretty poor here. Made a mental note to bring along some inexpensive walkie-talkie radios if we ever find ourselves split up and trying to communicate where cell phone coverage is poor.

 

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The rain had made the clay on the talus slope very soft and slippery. I spent a lot of time with multiple points of contact to the ground--holding on with both hands usually to avoid possibly losing my footing. Having my head held close to the ground in order to see the small blastoids obviously works better if you scan the area slowly. I knew I had limited time here and was searching somewhat quickly but I'm surprised that I missed this second blastoid just a hand-width away from the one on top that I did collect. :DOH:

 

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It's also quite obvious (now) that I missed this other Archimedes that is nearly touching the blastoid underneath. At least I was getting pretty good at spotting even the tiniest of the blastoid specimens.

 

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I found a larger blastoid that had been flattened a bit and I spotted the first brachiopod. It was odd to see the brachiopods being so relatively rare as they were always so common at the few Devonian sites I'd hunted.

 

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I finally remembered that there were Archimedes at this site but only after I spotted this one. There is no telling how many more I missed. My time was running out and I was looking for one last find of the day before quitting and then trying to find a path back down (you never remember the path up as it looks different from above). Going down is usually more dangerous than up and so I spent extra effort looking for descents that wouldn't land me in the ER. Happily, the last find of the day was one of the largest of the blastoids. That seemed to put a cap on this 45 minute excursion into the Mississippian (my first fossil hunt from this geologic age).

 

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From up on top you can see the interchange with route 64 heading back to Lexington which is the route we took to arrive later that day in Asheville, North Carolina to visit friends we haven't see in 2 years. It was a fun little excursion and signs that a longer hunt would be even more productive. The fossil-bearing layer is about 2/3 the way up to the top of the slope. I spotted some better access points on the way back down and if I ever get back to this locality I hope to explore with with many more hours of time to dedicate to the hunt.

 

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Cheers.

 

-Ken

 

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Family Fun

Great story Ken and stunning pictures but not sure the title was kind to us in Florida.   If you’d like to make a trip down, I’d be happy to setup a tour and get you and your bride a place to stay, including breakfast before heading out to the river.

 

I’m confident the quality and quantity of your finds will help you understand the number of posts from Florida.

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Tidgy's Dad

Nice report and super blastoids. 

I can confirm that is a beautiful Terrrapene carolina. 

And the brachiopod maybe a Composita? 

 

Your alert to me didn't work, but thankfully I saw this anyway. :shrug:

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40 minutes ago, Family Fun said:

Great story Ken and stunning pictures but not sure the title was kind to us in Florida.   If you’d like to make a trip down, I’d be happy to setup a tour and get you and your bride a place to stay, including breakfast before heading out to the river.

 

I’m confident the quality and quantity of your finds will help you understand the number of posts from Florida.

Title was never meant to be unkind--just a departure from all of the Florida-centric posts that I do make. ;) I too am a resident of this fossil-rich state.

 

Been to the Peace many times over the years but certainly plan on avoiding it till next fossil hunting season as it is presently around 9 feet too high for me (or any sane person) to go fossil hunting there now.

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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Family Fun

That completely gives me another perspective.    Thanks again for sharing the story and pictures, way cool.  
 

And now as I pay attention to Digit and not Ken, I wouldn’t have taken offense.  
 

Completely sorry for my misunderstanding,

 

Regards,

 

Rick

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Fossilis Willis

This is a location I will likely never visit. But thanks to yet another grade A trip report, it's almost as if I've been there (just without the fist full of cool blastoids). Thanks for taking us along Ken.

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snolly50

Great account. I really like the blastoids. There is just a symmetrical "rightness" that makes their form very appealing. 

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FossilDAWG

I'm really glad to see your visit was successful and you finally got to scratch your "blastoid itch".

 

Don

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8 hours ago, Family Fun said:

Completely sorry for my misunderstanding,

Not a problem. It's an artifact of communicating on a forum through written words which often leaves room for misinterpretation. ;) I can easily see the way you first read it. It made me chuckle to think of someone from the higher latitudes posting a summer fossil hunt to compete with the seemingly endless stream of Florida trip reports that can dominate this subforum in the winter when more northerly sites are buried under blankets of snow.

 

 

1 hour ago, FossilDAWG said:

I'm really glad to see your visit was successful and you finally got to scratch your "blastoid itch".

If it wasn't 12 hours from Gainesville I'd consider revisiting on a drier day with more time to really investigate this site. First time collecting corals of a Mississippian age. It's only 5 hours from Chicago so maybe I'll get another chance when we're up there visiting again. I have the occasional small bowl of fossils (or other interesting objects) scattered around the house. I've always thought that a small bowl of blastoids would make an attractive conversation piece as they would be hard to pass by without being tempted to pick up one of these geometric beauties. :)

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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Praefectus

Nice to see you were able to go collecting. It looks like you had a great trip. Nice finds and thanks for the report. 

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connorp

I love that site, thanks for the report. The brachiopod is Cleiothyridina sublamellosa.

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Thanks! Nice to have an ID for that one.

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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  • 5 weeks later...
Raggedy Man

Love those blastoids Ken! 

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As do I. ;)

 

Good to have you back.

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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fossilhunter21

Nice finds and report!    

 

Thanks for sharing! :)

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Excellent report, Ken...top notch layout suits your awesome photos quite well.

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ClearLake

Ken, glad you had a good stop there.  I have visited it a few times and indeed the blastoids and Archimedes are fun to collect.  Considering the size of that outcrop it is important to have an idea where you are supposed to look or you might give up about half way up!  :headscratch:  Sorry the weather wasn't a bit better, but that may have helped you in washing out some fresh material.

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Nearly washed me out as it was quite slippery. :o

 

It was a fun stop on a long roadtrip from Chicago back to Gainesville. Hope to find myself back in the area again sometime with more time (and better weather) to explore this road-cut more.

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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sixgill pete

Very nice Ken. I do love the blastoids. I have a few thanks to generous forum members. One of these days I will make a trip ..............

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Good news is that Roger Portell (invertebrate paleontology at the FLMNH) had a look at the blastoids and thinks several of them would be nice additions to the teaching collection as they were well inflated and showed nice detail. I'm picking out the nicest ones and will drop them off with him next week when I'm back on campus in the prep lab. :)

 

Everybody loves a good blastoid. :P

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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minnbuckeye
On 8/14/2021 at 9:55 AM, digit said:

Good to have you back.

 

@Raggedy Man, ditto to what Ken said!

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Beautiful specimens, and all in only 45 minutes?! Having a background in cognitive neuroscience, I can tell you that that sort of tunnel vision is a well-known attentional mechanism. Your perception switches to focus for one pattern, and that helps anything that matches that pattern to pop-out at you. That pop-out helped you spot those pea-sized blastoids. But the same mechanism filters out non-matches to the pattern. The lucky thing is that your attention is adaptable enough that it can hold several patterns at once, so if you know there are Archimedes screws also, you can pattern-match for blastoids and screws at the same time. 
 

anyway, that site looks like a worthy place to visit. Thanks for the report!

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Getting "in the zone" during a hunt is one of the enjoyable aspects of hunting in a novel locality. It's great fun to develop a search image and then see how proficient you can get at finding matching hits.

 

Today I dropped off 5 of the nicest Pentremites blastoids with Roger Portell from the invertebrate paleontology department of the FLMNH. He said he liked the detail on these and they could be useful as teaching specimens. He might get these imaged (micro-CT scanned) and I asked for a copy of the imagery. I'll post some images if/when I receive them.

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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I was curious to see if the layer that these fossils came from was shale. I've heard that you can soften shale by soaking it in hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). I picked up a bottle and dropped in a few pieces that I collected which were still in the matrix. I did see some fizzing and the water did get cloudy when I stirred it from time to time so I guess some might have been dissolving off the little matrix chips. I hedged my bet a bit by tossing in some acetic acid (vinegar) after a few days. Took out the bits and rinsed them off. I could see some softened matrix on the surface and so I cleaned them up a bit with a toothbrush.

 

One of the little blastoids managed to free itself from the small chip of matrix that it was bound to and a small rugose (horn) coral I tossed in (while still locked in the matrix) is a bit cleaner on the exposed sides. As a bonus the horn coral can now be seen to be mostly coated with Beekite (a ringed form of chalcedony). Quite pretty under magnification.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beekite

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

 

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ClearLake

 

4 hours ago, digit said:

I've heard that you can soften shale by soaking it in hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)

When I was in graduate school, the professor I worked with would extract fossils from shales by boiling it in water with a strong detergent (Quaternary O, but that probably just dates me - haha). The boiling just broke down the shales and we sieved the fossils out. It worked pretty well on a variety of Pennsylvanian shales being studied. 

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