Finger Lakes Fossil Hunting at Staghorn Point

August 29, 2010 at 6:06 pm 5 comments

Shoreline at Stag Horn Point

A view from the shore, to the south end of the lake

The unique geography and geology of the Finger Lakes make it a Fossil Hunter’s dream. I often sit at the shoreline by our cottage, and sift through handfuls of shale. Most of what I find are little stone clam shells and little stone curly worms, but other locations around the Finger Lakes have very unusual fossil finds.

Close-up, Stag Horns

A close-up shot of the stag horn fossils

While motor boating on the south-eastern end of Skaneateles Lake, we came upon a relatively undeveloped area. The shoreline has little area to walk, as steep cliffs rise out of the water and continue up for about 100’. This is a spot is locally referred to as Stag Horn Point.

If you want to explore the shoreline you need bathing suit and water shoes are helpful. I brought along flippers and a mask, which made it much easier to find fossils, as there are next-to-none loose along the shore — but loads that have fallen into the water.

We anchored our boat about 20’ off shore and enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch, before jumping into the lake to explore the lake bottom and the shoreline.

Fossilized Rugose Coral

the shoreline one massive collection of fossils

Stag Horns, as we call them, are actually the fossilized remains of Rugosa Coral.

Here comes the science lesson: The Rugosa are an extinct group of corals that were abundant during the Devonian/Silurian Period (360-438 Million years ago). Much of New York was a shallow ocean during Silurian times. They are also referred to as “horn corals” because of their characteristic shape. Other animals during that time that left us fossil remains are Brachiopods (the clam shells), Trilobites (old-fashioned cockroach) and Cephalopods (the curly worms I described above).

So, how did those oceans become our Finger Lakes of today?

Butterflies at Staghorn Point

Not everything is fossilized

After the oceans receded, the Finger Lakes were river valleys. Glaciers dug deep in to river valleys that cut through a thick bed of shale (90 meters) and carved the v shaped valleys of the rivers in the region in to the unshaped valleys that the Finger Lakes now occupy.

Where to find the fossils

Fossil dictionary

New York Paleontology & Geology

Back to the future.  If you have the time to explore one of the Finger Lakes in a boat I hope you’ll discover (like we did) the secret rope swings, the best swimming spots and maybe even some 400 million year old sea life!



Entry filed under: Activities, Fossil Hunting, Skaneateles Lake, Swimming.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jennie ryan  |  September 6, 2010 at 11:49 pm

    I had a delightful hour swimming in waist deep water just a few yards off the shore area. I found 7 wonderful fossils and hope to return next year for a longer harvest.

    jennie ryan
    rochester, ny

  • 2. Diamond Dave  |  October 21, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Our family has owned this half mile of shore front until this year. In 2011 we donated it to the Finger Lakes Land Trust so it should remain in the above described undeveloped fashion forever. Enjoy! But don’t us a hammer to get the fossils. It’s illegal and there are plenty to pick up just under the water.

    The Dickinsons

    • 3. Finger Lakes Summer  |  October 28, 2011 at 11:51 am

      I saw the FLLT sign at the shore. What a wonderful gift! That shoreline is better than any museum display for fossils. Snorkeling is very good there too.

  • 4. Brian Charles  |  August 28, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    I was there about 10 years ago and found some fine specimens loosened from the shale by erosion.Water clarity is excellent (I’m a diver), and the lake is quite deep-up to 700 feet-so it stays pretty cool for swimming.

  • 5. T. Dickinson  |  October 7, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    This area is private and the Finger lakes Land Trust own the rest (Cora Kamphe Nature Perserve).. There is no collecting allowed, please leave the fossils where they lye. You are welcome to enjoy there beauty but please do not collect. Thanks The Dickinson Family


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