Dig With The Experts 2022

SOLD OUT

Saturday June 4th, 9 am -4 pm; Sold out
Sunday June 5th, 9 am – 4 pm; Sold out
Monday June 6th, 9 am -4 pm; Free day for any Dig participants & members. Monday will have limited staffing.

Join us on June 4th and 5th for our signature fossil dig — Dig With The Experts! This is our very popular, once yearly opportunity to unearth the best, most complete, and most unexpected fossils at Penn Dixie! We’ll have equipment do the heavy lifting and scientific experts on site to help with locating and identifying the best fossils. You’ll have to do your share of splitting and digging, of course, but you’re guaranteed to find something cool and interesting.

Expert volunteers — including scientists, leading fossil collectors, and experts on local geology — will lead the dig in a freshly excavated section of the Lower Windom Shale and will demonstrate how to find Devonian Period trilobites, cephalopods, fish remains, brachiopods, corals, wood, and a range of other marine invertebrates. Thanks to our experts — all volunteer collectors and paleontologists who travel to Penn Dixie to share their time and knowledge — we are celebrating our 17th dig in 2022!

Director’s Notes: This program will sell out — please reserve in advance to guarantee a spot. We do not recommend that children under age 10 attend this program due to the technical and safety requirements of splitting rocks. Children are welcome to attend at the event rate on Saturday, and there is discounted child admission available on Sunday. During Dig With The Experts, other areas of Penn Dixie will be open to fossil collectors of all ages and regular tours will be available. Tickets are electronic and will not be mailed.

Eldredgeops rana.
Bellacartrightia, found and prepped by Alasdair Gilfillan.
DWTE 2021 participants picking their piles.

Dig With The Experts draws collectors from around the globe for this unique opportunity, which was developed and is currently co-led by our friends from the Cincinnati Dry Dredgers. Bring a hammer, chisel, safety glasses, newspaper, and paper towels to wrap your fossils. Extra water is recommended, plus bring rain gear just in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Guests are welcome to bring their own food and beverages, as well as a small cart to transport personal items and specimens. Chairs and umbrellas may also be brought to this event.

Additional information:

Penn Dixie Frequently asked questions

Buffalo ranked America’s favorite city to visit, upstaging all competitors

Rare Trilobite Found At Dig With The Experts 2021

Seasoned experts and first time fossil hunters alike visit Penn Dixie in the hopes of taking home a trilobite. Trilobites are extinct, marine arthropods, named for their three-lobed bodies. The majority of the trilobites found on site are Eldredgeops rana, although Greenops (uncommon), Bellacartrightia (rare), Pseudechenella (rare), Dipleura (very rare) have all been recorded at Penn Dixie. 

On August 27th, 28th, and 29th, fossil hunters from all over the country flocked to Penn Dixie for Dig With The Experts 2021. Dig With The Experts is an annual event that allows fossil hunters to get their hands on freshly excavated material, with guidance provided by scientific experts who help locate and identify the site’s best fossils. Among this year’s dig participants was Theodore Gray, who unearthed one of Penn Dixie’s rarest trilobites – the coveted Pseudechenella rowi. Below is Theodore’s account of discovering and prepping this extraordinary find.

In The Field

I have been a member of Penn Dixie for years but living in California, I had been to the quarry only three times over the years. On each visit, I always found a few trilobites but never a nice prone one. In 2021, I had the good fortune to be in Western NY over the weekend of Dig With The Experts. I bought tickets for Saturday and Sunday with my goal of a nice prone Eldredgeops

The execution of DWTE was new to me. I was aware that heavy equipment was involved but the sight of all those covered piles was amazing! The best part was no digging out the slabs by hand! Been there, done that.

DWTE participants picking their piles.

I picked a pile and got to work. I met the young guy digging next to me, Cole from Kentucky, and we shared the joys of each find from our respective piles. I finished going through my pile by early afternoon and had a number of nice Eldredgeops in matrix but no “killer” prone examples. I spent the rest of the day snooping through the discards from Friday’s digs and found a few more Eldredgeops and even one nice complete prone 1 incher. 

On Sunday, we returned in earnest and the same scenario ensued. I finished my pile by noon or so and then spent the afternoon banging on other peoples’ leftovers. I found another larger prone Eldredgeops that was split in the middle of the thorax but it certainly was big enough to fit the bill, if it was all there.

At some point, I had split a chunk of a slab and spotted a small pygidium, exposed by the split. The “skin” on the pygidium was damaged by the force of the split and crumbled away. Most of the bug was encased in the matrix but as I inspected it closer, I thought I saw traces of a genal spine. I suspected that it was something different but I did not know what.  

Telltale genal spine of Theodore’s trilobite.

Now, when you are digging at DWTE, you don’t waste time field prepping anything. When you find a “possible”, you put it on the keeper pile and keep moving! So, I shrugged, wrapped the trilobite in foil, put it on the keeper pile and moved on. By Sunday evening, my “keeper pile” was looking to be all that I could handle on the flight back to California and I guessed that I might need another suitcase.

On Monday, when I got back to my hotel, I revisited the little bug and it was clear that it had a genal spine. I texted “Cole from Kentucky” and sent him a photo of the mystery bug. He thought that the trilobite was an Eldredgeops, and that the “genal spine” could be a molt fragment. I told him that I thought there was a high probability that it was something else. Cole searched the PD website and found the description of the Pseudodechenella rowi.

Like Cole, having only been to PD on a few occasions, I was only aware of the presence of the Eldredgeops and Greenops genera. During DWTE, I heard chatter about the Bellacartwrightia and at some point, someone mentioned something about a rare Proteid. As a self taught preparator of trilobites, I know what a Proteid looks like.  I “cut my teeth” as a hobby preparator working on dozens of Gerastos granulosus, a Moroccan proteid species that is so common that the Moroccans call them “flies”.  Since the holochroal eyes were not visible on my specimen, only further preparation would confirm our conclusion. 

Holochroal eye (Clarkson 1975)
Schizochroal eye (Levi-Setti, 1993)

Back At The Lab

As a preparator, one wants to “practice” on the rocks from a particular locality to establish a familiarity with the way that the matrix responds to the force of the air scribes. So, it was not until almost a month later, having prepared a dozen or more of my finds, that I started on the “little pygidium” bug.

Theodore’s fossil prep lab.

In my lab, I use three primary air scribes, essentially “coarse, medium and fine”. The matrix of the Smoke Creek trilobite bed is actually quite soft so the majority of the prep work is done with the “fine” air scribe. The medium air scribe serves to “landscape” the matrix if needed. The final cleaning of crevices and such is done, by hand, with a pin vise.

Air scribe / pen.

As a preparator, one always should consider the final presentation of the specimen before starting. Since this bug was located on the edge of the rock fragment, I decided that it would look best if it was vertical on the face of the rock matrix. So, I used a tile saw to cut away the bulk of the rock fragment such that the remainder would stand up nicely with the bug presented on the face of the fragment.

Removing the matrix.

In this case, there was a substantial thickness of matrix covering the bug so I used the medium scribe to remove most of the overlying matrix, creating a crescent shaped pattern around the bug. Then, I used the “fine” scribe to carefully expose the rest of the thoracic segments and the head.

Prep progress.

The head was crushed and deformed so I stopped using the scribe when all of the main features were visible. At that point, I could clearly see that the genal spines were present on both sides and it has holochroal eyes. It was definitely a Pseudodechenella

Pseudodechenella with uncovered genal spines and holochroal eyes.

Given the rarity of the specimen and the damage to the pygidium, I opted to stop any further preparation and send it off to a professional preparator, Ben Cooper of Trilobites of America.

Theodore’s prepped Pseudodechenella.

We would like to thank Theodore for sharing this discovery with us, and congratulate him on his rare find. If you’re interested in seeing more of Theodore’s lab and equipment, click here.

An Eyecatching Trilobite

By Dr. Phil Stokes, Executive Director

I’m always elated when a guest finds a really neat fossil and 2019 Dig With The Experts provided enough excitement to carry me forward for a long while! Many collectors uncovered large, excellently preserved specimens from the newly-excavated portion of Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Nature Reserve. Complete trilobites were on the menu, and the dig did not disappoint hundreds of enthusiastic diggers like Jimmy Cyrus from Kentucky.

Jimmy large phacops 1
The unprepared trilobite as found by Jimmy Cyrus at Dig With The Experts.

Jimmy large phacops 2
Preparation a little further along.

Jimmy submitted these photos of this beautifully-prepared Eldredgeops (Phacops) rana trilobite. As you can see, the carapace is entirely intact and all of the distinctive Eldredgeops features are visible. Malcolm Thornley — one of Penn Dixie’s amazing volunteer experts — did an incredible job preparing this specimen.

Finished 1
Ta-da! Great job, Malcolm!

My most favorite attribute of our trilobites is the eyes. Once prepared, you can — with a magnifier — count the dozens of eyelets on each compound eye. But, that’s not the weirdest thing. Did you know that the eyes were located on turret-like organs which could swivel? Trilobites could rotate their eyes in nearly 360 degrees!

Even the trilobite name — ‘Rana’ — refers to the eyes. In Latin, it means ‘frog’ due to the frog-like nature of the eyes! But, maybe there’s one more language connection to make. In Arabic, Rana is a somewhat common name. The meaning? Eyecatching. 

May 2019: Dig With The Experts

Join us for our signature event — Dig with the Experts! This is our very popular, once yearly opportunity to unearth the best, most complete, and most unexpected fossils at Penn Dixie. We’ll have equipment do the heavy lifting and scientific experts on site to help with locating and identifying the best fossils. You’ll have to do your share of splitting and digging, of course, but you’re guaranteed to find something cool and interesting.

Saturday May 18: 9 am to 4 pm
Sunday May 19: 9 am to 4 pm
Monday May 20: 9 am to 4 pm (limited staffing)

Expert volunteers — including scientists, leading fossil collectors, and experts on local geology — will lead the dig in a freshly excavated section of the Lower Windom Shale and will demonstrate how to find Devonian Period trilobites, cephalopods, fish remains, brachiopods, corals, wood, and a range of other marine invertebrates. Thanks to our experts, we are celebrating our 15th dig in 2019! Saturday participants will receive a special commemorative gift.

But, wait — there’s more! ‘Paleo’ Joe Kchodl will once again join us for a special science talk the evening before the dig. Paleo Joe will present: The Fossil Adventures of PaleoJoe at on Friday May 17 at 6:30 pm in the Gateway Building Auditorium, 3556 Lakeshore Road in Blasdell, NY. This family-friendly presentation is FREE for Penn Dixie members AND registered dig guests, or $5 for the public. No reservations needed.

Tickets:
Saturday May 18: SOLD OUT
Sunday May 19: SOLD OUT
Weekend Pass: SOLD OUT
Monday May 20: Included for all guests.

Director’s Notes: This program will sell out — please reserve early. In commemoration of our 15th dig, we offer Child (under age 18) tickets for Sunday’s dig at $15 each. Children are welcome to attend on Saturday at the regular rate. We do not recommend that children under age 7 attend this program due to the technical and safety requirements. During Dig With The Experts, other areas of Penn Dixie will be open to fossil collectors of all ages and regular tours will be available. Children must be accompanied at all times. Tickets are electronic and will not be mailed.

International Guests: Please email Dr. Phil Stokes at phil@penndixie.org with your name, order info (i.e., dates, numbers and types of tickets), and membership status. We’ll send you a PayPal invoice directly.


Dig with the Experts draws collectors from around the globe for this unique opportunity, which was developed and is currently co-led by our friends from the Cincinnati Dry Dredgers. Bring a hammer, chisel, safety glasses, newspaper, and paper towels to wrap your fossils. Extra water is recommended, plus bring rain gear just in case the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Food trucks will be on site Saturday and Sunday to serve lunch. Guests are welcome to bring their own food and beverages, as well as a small cart to transport personal items and specimens. Chairs and umbrellas are okay, too. We thank Zoladz Construction Co., Inc. for their help to get Penn Dixie ready for this big event.

Additional information:

Buffalo ranked America’s favorite city to visit, upstaging all competitors

Penn Dixie Frequently asked questions

Report on 2016 Dig with the Experts

Updates from 2016 Dig with the Experts

2017 Dig with the Experts Updates

Some general notes for those planning to attend:

  1. We will be open on Monday May 29 — Memorial Day. Admission on this day will be free for anyone who registered for the dig. Regular admission rates will be available for the general public. There is no need to sign up to visit on Monday. Penn Dixie will be open 9-4 on Memorial Day.
  2. For those who wish to arrive early on Saturday or Sunday: The gate will open at approximately 8 am and we will begin parking guests at that time. Please be advised that our staff will not be ready to handle check-ins until shortly before 9 am.
  3. The dig officially ends at 4 pm on Saturday and Sunday. However, the site remains open until 5 pm on both days. And, you are welcome to stay late if you’d like. We just ask that you move your vehicle outside the gate so that our staff can complete the process of closing for the evening.
  4. To our out of town visitors: welcome!! Here’s a link to the Hamburg Chamber visitor’s guide with some great suggestions for restaurants and attractions: https://www.hamburg-chamber.org/explore-hamburg/
  5. Don’t forget that PaleoJoe Kchodl will present Trilobite Treasures: Arthropods of the Ancient Seas on Friday at 6:30 pm in the Gateway Auditorium at 3556 Lakeshore Road in Blasdell. Joe is a real treasure to the science education community and we are excited about having him back again this year. https://penndixie.org/trilobite-treasures/
  6. If you’re new to Penn Dixie, be sure to check out our FAQ.  https://penndixie.org/2016/07/10/frequently-asked-questions/