From the Paleozoic to the Pleistocene, Chautauqua’s Bird, Tree & Garden Club is digging up some ancient history.
Mark Baldwin, director of education for the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, will be giving a talk on the fossils of the Chautauqua-Allegheny region at 12:15 p.m. today in Smith Wilkes Hall. This is a topic of personal interest to Baldwin, a Jamestown, New York, native, as he has been collecting fossils in the area since he was a young boy.
“When I was a kid, I used to just go take walks up ‘the crick,’ which is what we called the river back then, and I’d find these pieces of shale with little imprints and trace fossils in them,” he said. “I have boxes and boxes of those.”
Baldwin’s Brown Bag lecture today will cover the expansive timeline of fossils that can be found in the ground of western New York. Depending on where a person digs, they could unearth fossilized remains from the Devonian Period, which transpired around 370 million years ago, or a piece as recent as the Pleistocene Epoch, only 15,000 years in the past.
Baldwin said imprints made by the shelled mollusks and brachiopods of the Devonian era are fairly common in the shale creek beds and gorges in the area. The more recent fossils of megafauna from the Pleistocene area are buried in shallower ground where bogs and mires once played the bane of animals like the mastodon.
Baldwin said some of the best places for greenhorn paleontologists to go looking for pieces of the past include Lake Erie’s shoreline, the Chautauqua gorge, Twentymile Creek, and the Penn Dixie quarry site in Hamburg. Penn Dixie, he said, is a converted cement quarry that has been turned into a family-friendly, member-supported dig site that welcomes any diggers to keep what they find.
“It’s always fun to find a well-preserved piece of life,” Baldwin said. “I think that, in order to understand how natural systems work, it’s important to understand what’s down there and what used to be here.”