Last sunday I went along with a small group of people to hunt for fossils in the Piesberg Quarry in Osnabrück. Although it is not something you’d think of doing on a lazy sunday afternoon it turned out to be a very fun activity and I would recommend it wholeheartedly. Read on to see what’s it like and the fossils you can find there!
The Piesberg Quarry
Piesberg is a mountain of 188 metres high and was formed 70 milion years ago when an underground vulcano pushed deep stone layers up to the surface. The site has been used for coal mining since 1461, but the mining was ceased in 1898 because of heavy water flows. If you look closely today you can still see many of the old underground tunnels now laid bare due to the more recent surface mining for sandstone.
These days the quarry is very popular among geologist and archeologists because it is rich in fossils and minerals from the Carboniferous. The Carboniferous is a geological period from about 300 to 359 milion years ago when the supercontinent Pangea had just been formed. Around the equator Pangea was covered in coal swamps which contained ferns, small trees and giant insects. The only vertebrates where a diverse set of amphibians, who later got competition from the early reptiles and the changing climate.
In the quarry at Osnabrück you can mostly find plant fossils along with the very rare insect or scorpion, the plants are in the layers above the coal seams, and the root layers are underneath. The surface mining pulls these layers apart and exposes these fossils. But unfortunatly the fossils are tossed in giant heaps along with all the other ‘useless’ stone and debris. This damages the fossils and makes finding high quality pieces harder.
Scorpions, dragonflies and other insects are rare to find, but there is an abundance of seed fern, horsetail and clubmosses. Some of these plants once appeared as trees, like the Lepidodendrales, related to the clubmoss family; and the Cladoxylopsida, ancestor trees to ferns and horsetails.
So, armed with a geologist’s hammer, hard-hat and a backpack full of old newpapers we scaled the slippery slopes of the quarry, hoping to bring home a masterpiece. There were many slabs with fossils, but as soon as you picked them up they would disintegrate. Sometimes a stone looked promising but when you split it open, there was nothing inside. We moved around the quarry a few times, we found plenty, but they were slim pickings that we could actually take home in one piece. Right when we were about to wrap up for the day, we stumbled across a few metres of stones that were full of fossils, and good ones too. We filled up our backpacks, leaving a lot of nice pieces behind because we couldn’t carry them, to walk back up the quarry.
It was hard work, and painful too sometimes. We all cut ourselves on the sharp rocks, twisted our ankles moving up or down the slopes of loose rock. But it was fun and challenging too. At the end of the day it’s wonderful to go home and to gaze at something that was alive 300 milion years ago. To hold something in your hand that is so old, from the beginning of our time, the beginning of life on earth.
I didn’t bring home as much as some of the others, as I was pretty picky and focused more on smaller (lighter) pieces than the large slabs full of fossils.
These where easier to carry home and would fit in my cabinet so I could put them on display. My favourites are the different kind of bark, they are beautiful and interesting, but next time would search for more minerals which I didn’t really do this time.
Below are pictures of everything I brought home, I plan on preserving some and giving others away.