Finger Lakes Fossil Hunting at Staghorn Point
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!