The Riverside Quarry at Gilboa, NY
A Complex Middle Devonian Forest

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View of the quarry with the high wall in the background and to the right.

On an earlier page (The Gilboa Fossil Forest) I noted a roadside display at Giboa of some stump casts from the Gilboa Forest, often described as the "World's oldest fossil forest". These stump casts were found at the "Riverside Quarry" during the quarrying of sandstone for use in the construction of the nearby Gilboa Dam. They were described as the tree Eospermatopteris by Winifred Goldring, and were the subject of a famous diorama in the old New York State Museum.

The quarry was subsequently back filled, and has been unavailable for further study for nearly 100 years. However, in 2010 the quarry floor was briefly reexposed during work on the Gilboa Dam. A research team from Binghamton University (William Stein), the NYS Museum (Linda Hernick and Frank Mannolini), and Cardiff University, UK (Christopher Berry) was given the opportunity to study the exposed fossil forest floor. Their results have recently been published (Stein et al., 2012).

Stein and coworkers carefully mapped 1,200 square meters of the exposed forest floor. This area contained 200 "root mounds", depressions with elevated rims that were identified as the locations of the Eospermatopteris" stumps. The original studies at Gilboa did not allow description of the aerial portions of the trees. However, recent work by Stein et al. has recently shown that the aerial portions of the Eospermatopteris are the previously described Wattieza (Stein et al., 2007).

One especially interesting finding of these new studies is that the Gilboa forest was much more complex than originally thought. Rather than a stand of a single species, Eospermatopteris/Wattieza, the forest contain at least three large species. In addition to the cladoxylopsid Eospermatopteris, the forest also had branching lycopsid trees. Also present were large aneurophytallean woody horizontal stems.  Stein et al. suggest these grew much as modern lianas, using the Eospermatopteris for support.

A video of Dr. Stein discussing the new discoveries can be viewed at:

Another video by Dr. Berry showing the quarry is seen at:

Two of the Eospermatopteris stump casts from Gilboa are now on display in Binghamton University's E. W. Heier Greenhouse

I was privileged to be invited by Dr. Stein to visit the site in June, 2010, just before the quarry was once again backfilled. The photos below are from that visit.

Note: This site is not available for collecting. In addition to the fact that it is once again covered, it is within the New York City water system, and is under the control of the NYC Department of Environmental Protection police.

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Another view of the quarry (with Dr. Stein).

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Eospermatopteris root mounds - note elevated rims.  The grid lines were used in mapping the forest floor.

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A recovered stump cast still partially in surrounding matrix - bottom surface of the stump cast is exposed on the top of the specimen. View on right is looking down at bottom of the cast. Pen is approximately 13 cm long.

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Closeup view of stump base above, showing root bases (left) and roots radiating out into the surrounding matrix (soil).

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A toppled Eospermatopteris trunk, root system at right.

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Carbonized aneurophytalean rhizomes (to 10 cm wide).

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Detail of rhizome showing "knobs".

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Lycopod - note characteristic "leaf scar" pattern.

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Newly recovered stump casts.


Stein WE, Berry CM, Harnick LV, and Mannolini F (2012) Surprisingly complex community discovered in the Mid-Devonian fossil forest at Gilboa. Nature 483, 78-81.

Stein WE, Mannolini F, Harnick LV, Landing E, and Berry CM (2007) Giant clodoxylopsid trees resolve the enigma of Earth's earliest forest stumps at Gilboa. Nature 446, 904-907.

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Page last modified March 29, 2012