What, This Old Thing?

I’m a bit over the moon, if not “at the Lagrange Point” about this.

Perhaps you recall my 2020 expedition [stderr] to Rome, NY, to dig for pyritized trilobites at a famous rock-pit (the Charles Emerson Beecher 1893 pit) that tends to exhibit a couple of unique things: the chemistry of the silt that went on to become the sand encasing the poor little dead trilobites is such that they form pyrites in the areas where the critter died – so you get a “fool’s gold” impression/death-casting that is quite unique. Also that same silt is exceptionally fine, comparable to the stone at the Burgess Shale, and it generally captures soft tissue impressions as well as the general outline of the critters.

At the time, I mentioned that by definition fossils from this particular pit are rare and collection/museum-worthy. My concern is not whether they’re worth $, or something like that, but there’s a better question, namely whether these things should sit on the curio shelf/memory box of some old goober, or whether I should try to get them into the hands of someone who runs a collection of fossils at some museum or something like that.

Let me show you:

mjr’s #4

Scientists have recently [nature] concluded that trilobites laid eggs and appear to have carried them behind their heads. Horseshoe crabs are probably not surprised to learn this, “it’s tradition for us.” I’ve also got to mention that the illustration of the trilobite in the Nature article – my trilobite is better – see what I mean? There are a bunch of eggs in a little cloud surrounding that poor long-dead lady trilobite. You can also see how fine the shale is that she wound up stuck in 450+ million years ago. The current odds-on bet about what happened is either a mud slide or a pond that got a “gully washer” which deposited a great deal of silt on top of/around a busy trilobite shopping mall. Actually, compared to more busy trilobite fields out west, this particular area had a fairly low population, which makes them more interesting.

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t post these earlier: blame COVID-19. The fellow who owns the pit has a smallish crew (he is a fossil hound who makes trips all over the country) of kids that are good at cleaning fossils without damaging them. They use the same methods a paleontologist prepping a fossil for a museum would. Apparently a lot of the kids’ work winds up in museums, so they must be pretty good at it. It’s a lot of looking through binocular microscopes and using a very small pressurized air knife to gently blast off the stuck bits of shale. Because of COVID, the fossil-cleaning operation was shut down for a while. [If I had been able to do a job like this in high school, I’d have been overjoyed! I spent my free time wiring burglar alarms which was also pretty darned cool]

mjr’s #2:

In terms of scale, these are not very big: 3/4″ or thereabouts (22mm) so they’ve obviously been photographed with some magnification. And, why not? A trilobite with both antennae in natural pose is good for someone who wants to be able to make inferences about how they hunted for food, etc. (and a couple more eggs with this one)

#3 is a bit more smashed up. Since it looks a bit smashed, I’ve named it “Rudy Giuliani, America’s Trilobite”

Right now they’re in a box in the hands of FedEx, and I’ll have them here in a couple days. I’m not sure what I’ll do with them, though I like #2 a lot. I’ve been thinking of making a small oak box for it and mounting the rock inside, with a removable cover so it’ll be dust and paw-free for its long nap in my dining room cabinet.

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Basically this is as close as a normal person can get to digging at the Burgess Shale. If I had a choice between doing this and being shot into space with Jeff Bezos, it’d be a tough call, but only because I wonder if I could beat the shit out of someone in zero G.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    I wonder if I could beat the shit out of someone in zero G

    One of the most impressive things (against stiff competition) in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” was the fight scene in the corridor with, ahem, variable gravity. It showed that the fight arranger had really thought hard about how you’d go about winning a hand-to-hand fight in freefall – namely that you’d not throw punches or kicks, and that it would be all about getting a dominant position and choking your opponent out. Very much like a lot of MMA, and very much not like most movie fights.

    So, y’know, if you ever find yourself in a position to – that’s how.

    Nice rocks, btw…

  2. jrkrideau says

    I’m not sure what I’ll do with them
    In the long term local university museum? I am pretty sure my local uni museum’s geology museum would, figuratively, kill for them.

    Hmm, I wonder if this is why the 1st year geo students spend a lot of time hanging off rock cuts.

  3. kestrel says

    What gorgeous fossils! They are really amazing in detail. And eggs too? Talk about hitting the jackpot…

    It would be tough to know what to do with them. I would say you are starting out right: enjoy the shit out of them. Maybe stipulate in your will they go to the Smithsonian or some other museum. I think mounting them in an oak box with a magnifying cover would be cool. They make bug boxes like that – example: https://www.acornnaturalists.com/clear-lucite-magnifying-box-small.html

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    In Jackie Chan’s Operation Condor, There is an interesting fight scene in a wind tunnel. It is played more for comedy than realism.

  5. says

    In Stephen Barnes’ books there is a character who is a “nullboxer” zero-gee combat specialist.
    At one point he explains that speed is what it’s all about, drops a piece of paper, punches it and there’s a “pop” and 4 neat holes through the paper before it hits the floor.

    So this is my zero-g katana. If I hit you twice as hard, it’ll do damage comparable to being in a G-field. Well, OK.

  6. Tethys says

    I did not remember your expedition, but those are indeed superbly preserved trilobite specimens. Somehow the museum quality rare fossils are exactly the type of decorative object that I expect would be in the collection of someone who just casually machined new solid aluminum escutcheons for their shower.

    My reaction is the same for both; Holy swarf, how cool are those? I assume you got frustrated when you couldn’t find anything at the local hardware store that wasn’t cheaply made tat?

    I’m sure there is a natural history museum in Ithaca that would be delighted to add them to their collection. High resolution scans could be taken for scientific research, and you can enjoy them too.

  7. springa73 says

    Those are quite beautiful. The one in the second photo especially is so well-preserved it looks like it’s about to scurry away!

  8. Tethys says


    Yes, there is a research institute associated with Museum of the Earth that is located in Ithaca, because that is where the Ithaca shale is found.
    As Marcus noted, the Beecher beds that his specimens came from are renowned for the pyritized trilobites with well preserved soft parts.

    AFAIK the only specimens of trilobite eggs that have been confirmed also come from the Beecher bed. They might be male trilobites carrying eggs, since we know virtually nothing about the sexual differentiation of trilobites. Details and excellent photos of shiny gold trilobites with eggs can be found at this link.


  9. brightmoon says

    That’s incredible and wonderful. I kept a few inexpensive fossils and rock samples as decorations .

  10. rrutis1 says

    Awesome fossils! And..Holy cow that place is local to me and I’ve never heard of it! I actually ride my bike past there about once a month. It is always exciting to learn something new about home!

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