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Red Hill is a site I first went to 10 years ago with my son, Ian who was 10 at the time. It is a very deep road cut into the uppermost part of the Catskill Formation representing a late Fammenian river system that was draining the Acadian mountains to the east and emptying into the inland sea in western PA and OH. It is one of a handful of sites in the world where Devonian tetrapods have been found. The site has fossil layers in both channel margin (red layers) and flood plain (gray-green layers) facies. While it is an active research site and groups go there under the understanding that anything of scientific importance will be donated to the museum, there is a lot there that is redundant in the collections and we've been able to retain. In 2014, Ian found an exceptionally preserved moderately large osteolepiform, Hyneria (Tristichopteridae). Some of the material went into the re-description of Hyneria, much we have been allowed to take home. Since then the project has expanded to a search for more tetrapod material using the jackhammer and generator the museum purchased. This may require multiple posts.

I'll start with the jaws recovered over 2014/15 seasons. This lens containing most of the head from apparently a single individual.

Here Ian is working with Ted Daeschler and Doug Rowe (site manager) of the Academy Of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. 



Here are some images of the jaw material after removal and after prep by Fred Mullison of the ANSP. Lower left jaw after removal.


This is the lower right jaw (right) and the vomer and very impressive fang.


Amazingly, in 2016, we went back. I was leading a trip for DVPS. Ian found this amazing but poorly prepped jaw (I did this one).


Here are a pair of cleithrums, about 29 cm long. The attachments for the scapulocoracoid are clearly visible between 17 and 21 cm.


Here is part of the parietal shield.



More to follow.



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Here are four teeth collected in both the Hyneria lens and in subsequent excavations.



and a group of Hyneria fin supports. The one on the right is one Ian extracted from the vertical wall when he was 11!


Here are some pieces of operculum from the Hyneria lens. The fragment on the right I believe is a piece of preopercular which has a groove the rostral side of the operculum fits into.


This very large and complete operculum was extracted by Ian last August. It should be at the field museum in North Bend unless its been moved to ANSP for restoration work.


These fragments were pieced together and id'd as suboperculum.


This nearly complete plate is most likely a cheek element I thought was postorbital. Not clear it is. 


Another interesting dermal element that is waiting to be id'd.


again awaiting next Red Hill trip for id




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Here is a Hyneria dentary found in 2013. The lateral view and 



lingual view with marginal teeth intact.


Here are some plates from 2012. I think the large one might be a gular based on the long straight edge.


And of course, there were many scales. This is a visceral view of one from the Hyneria lens with central boss and caudal fringed edge.


Here is the impression of a fin (pectoral?) with lepidotrichia


Finally, I am including an unidentified bone recovered in the 2017 season in the Hyneria lens. It was initially thought it might be tetrapod but that does not seem as likely. What ever it is, hasn't been seen before so it remains on Ted Daeschler's desk as a mystery element. 




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Neat fish! Thanks for the report on this site. 

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Great images and finds, Paul!

Glad to see this update.  :) 

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Paul, It's good to see the fruits of your labor. You did good and now you deserve a fine Tetrapod score.

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The Acanthodians seemed to be a major component of the Red Hill fauna. They were in both the channel margins and the pond facies and left their very distinctive spines. In addition to the spines are their scapulocoracoid elements which are definitely not uncommon. I think we have about 8 at this point. 

This is a collection of spines that we have accumulated over the years. The one at the top is a pre-pectoral plate, the short one is a ventral (anal) spine, the bottom one is a pectoral and the one in the middle is a pelvic spine.


The pectoral spine was supported by a scapulocoracoid. The only ossified internal skeletal element. This one was collected in 2013 on a NYPS trip. Its associated with a substantial pectoral spine but my understanding is the knob just right of center was oriented dorsally and not in contact with the spine. The other interesting feature is the matrix at the top has white specks that are denticles or scales. 


This is an interesting Gyracanthus scapulocoracoid. There's a second one underneath and an associated spine. During the initial excavation of the Hyneria  lens, only one of us could work on it so Ian went and found these.


along with these scales which Doug Rowe believes are Rhizodont. I'd be interested if anyone has seen these type of scales before.


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Thanks, I have a lot more. Just couldn't figure out how to do it in a single post. Hope you guys are well. My arm is pretty well healed and I'm looking forward to spending a lot more time in Pennsylvania this season.

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The fang is INSANE, in a very good way!  Amazing! Thanks for the report, pictures and sharing Paul.



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Thanks Libby, That vomer was the one thing my son really wanted to keep. Of course, the rest of it looked nothing like that before Fred Mullison did the prep. The articulation of the caudal end of the vomer is an important characteristic of the Tristchopteridae which includes Eustenopteron. This fish is very close to the lineage of the tetrapods which at this point were on the menu so our ancestors may have been developing limbs to get away from those fangs.

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Placoderm. Of the three found at Red Hill the only one we've found so far is Turrisaspis, the most common fossil at Red Hill. Mostly individual plates but we did find two articulated Turrisaspis. The first year we went in 2009 and a better one in 2017. Both were crushed so I'm still trying to make out individual plates but the spinal plate of the thoracic shield is pretty clear in the 2017 specimen.

Found in 2009 in the pond facies.



Found in 2017 in the channel margin facies. This appears to be the dorsal surface with the orbit possibly in the lower right corner.


This would be the ventral side of it. Spinal plate is on the upper right.


Here is a spinal plate by itself.


And here is the next most recognizable Turrisaspis plate, the Medial Dorsal. This makes up the dorsal fin.



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:popcorn:fascinating!!! I’ve read about this site. What a gem of a location for so many reasons 

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Very interesting and informative with some great photos.

Thanks. :)

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I read about it in 1994 when Daeschler and Shubin published on the first tetrapod material. I was always interested in the water to land transition. I use to go to Philadelphia to play rugby and wondered about it but never would have believed I'd be able to actually work there.


So here is another Osteolepiform. Its give the family designation Megalichthyidid but some truly spectacular articulated material has not been completely analyzed (its languishing in the collection in U of Chicago) so that is not even certain. This is a group of articulated scales found in 2012.  It was in a wall and this is all we could get. I hate to even think what else might have been in there. Possibly a whole articulated fish?



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Actinopterygii. Possibly two species are present but only one has been described, Limnomis delaneyi. Limnomis is also one of the most common but occurs in lenses and so otherwise is fairly rare. I discovered a lens in 2016 under the Hyneria lens while Ian was extracting his jaw. Unfortunately, the saying the fish rots from the head down is really true and while its easy to find an articulated fish its rare to find one where the head hasn't exploded. Here are a few.


This is an exploded head with the upper and lower jaws towards the center right. The balloonish thing right in the upper center is its operculum, I think.


Here are two fish bodies with the heterocercal caudal tail in the lower right.


A couple headless fish.



Chondrichthyes. Yes, there were sharks here also. Two species have been found but I think only one spine from Ctenacanthus. We've only found two of the tiny teeth of Ageleodus. 



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Ok, so I have the day off and to complete this survey I am including some plant material because the real value of Red Hill as a site where the earliest tetrapods evolved is also the presence of extremely well preserved plant material. Red Hill represents the Devonian experiment of living on land. Still intimately associated with the water but life had not only moved onto the land but thrived there and in the process created the first soils and ecosystems that we would recognize. So I farm on a very small scale and have embraced the concepts of permanent agriculture or Permaculture which uses the synergy of mixed polyculture plantings to produce food. An ecosystem is ultimately how nature has captured and organized energy and once nature had solved the problems of living on land it created a vast number of new niches which we know were there to be filled and allowed innovation in design. Of course, it was all based on the genetic toolbox the plants and animals brought with them. 


Starting with the canopy, here are some images of the progymnosperm tree Archaeopteris.


This is material found in the channel margin, not nearly as spectacular as what has been found in the pond facies.


I hope John will excuse me using this image, but this was extracted on the DVPS May 2017 trip by Fossilcrazy. Its spectacular and actually the less common species, macilenta. Of course, leaves and fronds are rare and generally what is found are tangles of branches in the reduced zones (green, Fe2+) of the pond facies. Archaeopteris being seasonal, would drop its branches like the trees drop their leaves in temperate climates today.


So 4 species of Archaeopteris have been identified but also in the understory were the lycopsids. They would come to dominate much of the swamps that generated today's Carboniferous coalfields. Lepidodendropsis was present at Red Hill with its very distinct bark. Here is a small piece with its counter part. Today the lycopsids are represented by pretty inconspicuous minor groups like club mosses. 



I didn't mean to include these images yet but while they're here. This is a interesting specimen because seed plants were just evolving and this is a very early example. The blobs indicated are cupules which are the pods where the seeds are contained (Cressler, personal communication). 




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So the next step at Red Hill is to continue working down the ledge that overlies the fossil bearing layers. 


This picture was taken last October. The fossiliferous layers are from the base the bucket is on up about 4 feet. To the right of center is the stairway to the top. Its a matter of dragging the jackhammer up there and working down. That ledge probably averages about a meter wide so that is a lot of rock. When we first started it extended across the entire picture where the little overhang is.


and from another angle. The shovel is where Ian and Daeschler were leaning in the first picture.


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Fantastic material!!!One of the best.

Regarding scales (pictures) I can see some affinities to rhizodonts but it is rather my intuition. 

Suggest to see rhizontoid fossils from Syas' River region (Russia) Snetnaya Gora formation (bit older but also upper devonian/ Frasnian). Do not have picture to post unfortunatelly but it may be helpful. 



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I am going with my son to Harvard's MCZ tomorrow primarily to look at the Hyneria holotype material there (Thomson 1968). Romer also collected Hyneria material in the 1950's near Red Hill. we're also going to look at some of their tetrapod material but I will also see if they have similar scales. 

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:faint:Some great fossils You have there!

Thanks for sharing.

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So what a great day with my son, Ian. I took the day off and we headed into Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology. We met the assistant curator and one of the staff who got the Hyneria holotype, MCZ9284 and material collected by Romer in the 1950's but recently re-assigned to Hyneria. While we didn't necessarily resolve some of the unidentified dermal plates it was such a treat to see these fossils in person and know they were collected by some of the big names. We also got to see some other fish and some of the recent tetrapod material collected to address the lack of specimens in "Romer's Gap" (Early Mississippian). So here's a couple of pictures of Hyneria:

MCZ8825 (Romer)


MCZ8825 (Romer)


MCZ9284 (Thomson)



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Interesting thread and great finds and info! congrats!

Regards, Chris 

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  • 3 months later...

I can't believe I left out this fossil. It's the left post parietal shield (post parietal, supratempoal, tabular). It is the other side of the one in the recent Daeschler publication, JVP2018. The right side is the medial edge, the upper left semi-circular structure is the spiracle. As the post parietal shield diminishes in size in the tetrapods the spiracle turns into an otic notch and eventually becomes our ear. 



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