Fossil Hunting at the Red Hill Devonian Fossil Site: Fish and Tetrapods
The Red Hill fossil site is nestled in an Appalachian valley in Central Pennsylvania.
DVPS members fossil hunting at the Devonian Red Hill fossil site.
Fish with Feet - Fossil Hunting for Devonian fish and early tetrapods at the Red Hill Fossil Site: October 2015
This October, I was able to fossil hunt at the Devonian Red Hill site in central Pennsylvania with the DVPS.
Red Hill is a very special site. It preserves a rare glimpse in time, way back in the Devonian era, where the invasion of land began. Here, the lines between fish and tetrapods (4 legged animals) are blurred. At Red Hill, one can find fish that have feet and also some of the worlds first tetrapods that could walk on land.
As usual, my hopes were high. I knew finding the remains of one of the two oldest tetrapods - Hynerpeton and Densignathus was next to impossible. However, finding other interesting freshwater Devonian fish that lived in these muddy lakes and streams were within reason. Some of the more interesting fish include odd lobe-finned fish. These fish have primitive arms and legs, but are still encased in a fleshy fin. Other strange fish include placoderms. These critters were covered in hard plates, or body armor. They kind of look like little robots or stealth airplanes.
The best strategy for this site full of fragmented fossils is to climb the road cut, pick a spot, dig out a shelf, and then carefully excavate downwards into a bone layer. Most of the seasoned fossil hunters employ this strategy. Unfortunately, this day, no one seemed to have much luck. Progress was slow and fossil finds were slim. Fossils were found, but I didn't see anything terribly interesting come out of the red hill.
I ended up with a cool "arm" or "leg" bone of an extinct Hyneria. Hyneria is the name of a 12 foot lobe-finned fish that prowled the fresh water streams. This fish, which has feet, is closely related to tetrapods. It's kind of neat when one can find the leg of a fish! I'm not sure if it corresponds to a femur, humerus, radius, ulna, etc... but it's still cool! Also found was a piece of placoderm armor and some fish scales.
I would like to give many thanks to Dr. Doug Rowe, who oversees the site and allows the DVPS to collect at this amazing fossil place! Where else can you find fish with feet and have the chance at finding one of the worlds first tetrapods?
If you are interested the transition from fins to feet, and Tetrapod Evolution, I strongly suggest:
Gaining Ground, Second Edition: The Origin and Evolution of Tetrapods (Life of the Past)
by David R. Schwimmer, 2002
This book, full of comparative illustrations and photos, tells the story of tetrapod evolution, how it started 370 some million years ago, and goes through the different interpretations of the various early tetrapods. It is a must for anyone interested in Tetrapod evolution. If you have ever fossil collected at Red Hill, this book puts everything in perspective.
Below are pictures and fossils from the Devonian Red Hill fossil hunt:
In order to find more complete fossils, one must clear off a 'shelf' and work down into a bone layer
The Red Hill Devonian fossil site.
This is a piece of armor from a Placoderm. It may be from the Placoderm 'Turrisaspis elektor'
This is a bone from the lobe-finned fish, Hyneria. It's a fin support bone, part of an arm or a leg.
This is a scale from some kind of Megalichthyidid lobe-finned fish. These are a common find at Red Hill.
This one is unusual in that it is jet black, and comes from a vegetation layer. A fellow collector found this one.
The rope looking impression is part of some kind of plant. The yellowish blob at the top is pyritized wood.