February 16, 2015, BY Matt Hughes

Not long ago, Professor Jeff Trop, geology, discovered an ancient arthropod fossil during a class field trip to Winfield Quarry, about four miles south of Bucknell University. He poked around a bit and found another, and another. Eventually Trop and his students uncovered one of the most significant fossil records of the extinct arthropods known as eurypterids, or "sea scorpions," in North America. We asked him about these amazing fossils and the world they once inhabited.

Question: Why is Winfield quarry an important find?

Answer: We found exclusively animal life fossilized in the local rocks. These are Silurian Age rocks. They're over 400 million years old. The find that we have in Winfield is particularly important because it contains anomalously abundant and well preserved eurypterids. Eurypterids were an early segmented arthropod that evolved into other types of predatory animals. We've actually catalogued thousands of eurypterids from this site, and we believe that this is one of the best examples of early marine predators — these eurypterids — found anywhere in North America.

Question: What can we learn from these fossils?

Answer: If we want to understand how these ecologies are going to respond to ongoing environmental change, we can use history. We can look at the historical record of ancient life and ancient landscapes and how they evolved. At Winfield, there is actually really good evidence for changes in sea level. And as you know, right now, sea level is changing. Sea level is rising, and if we want to understand how shallow marine environments are going to respond to the current environmental change, Winfield teaches us how that happens.  

Question: How did you discover eurypterids at the quarry?

Answer: I had been to Winfield Quarry a couple of times on field trips for my paleontology class. We got out of the vehicle on my third trip to that quarry, and a student immediately found a eurypterid fossil. Kait Fleming, the student at the time, came immediately over to me. We hadn't been in the quarry maybe five minutes, and she showed me this fossil, and I knew we were onto something really interesting.