Driftwood + Limestone | Schoharie, NY, The Story of a Quarry and Iron Sulphate Fossils – Part II

One of my favorite things about my pigment work is the new information that I learn, artistically, culturally and scientifically. As i mentioned in Part I of this story, I came across these beautiful little iron fossils upon closer inspection of the landscape near the quarry in Schoharie. At first, i wasn’t sure if they were fossils or simply pure iron ore, until getting home to do some further research. What prompted my intrigue in finding out some answers was also the presence of Pyrite that was centered around the rich iron colors on the surrounding rocks. This Pyrite was the key clue to unravelling the interesting little mystery of my find.

First, to understand how these once living organisms transformed into the present day beautiful nuggets of color that they are, we need to know about the process of fossilization. Fossilization is the process in which mineral deposits form internal casts of once living organisms. The minerals are carried by water and fill the spaces within organic tissue by seeping into the pores of the cells wall and form crystal structures within the walls – the cell walls remain intact surrounding the crystal.

The presence of Pyrite in these color samples indicate that the water and sediment they were once submerged in was rich and saturated withe Iron Sulfides – as Pyrite is an Iron persulfide (FeS2).  Pyrite is often found in sedimentary rock – as organic matter decays it releases sulfide which reacts with the dissolved iron particles in the water.  Pyrite replaces the once carbonate shell, bone or structure of an animal or plant due to an undersaturation of carbonate in the surrounding waters. This occurs frequently in marine environments and is a process of Permineralization.

When these Pyrite fossils are exposed to O2 and H2O they can suffer from “Pyrite Disease” or “Pyrite Rot”. This “disease” is actually the oxidation of the Pyrite which in turn transforms it into Iron Sulphate (FeSO4).  The product of the oxidation is several times the volume of the original material which causes the fossil to fracture and crumble [1].

Upon crushing down some of the less discernible and more damaged specimens for a truly unique pigment, they released a strong sulphur smell as they were still pure pyrite in the core where water and oxygen had not yet penetrated. The pigment, as it stands now is a rich brown color – but will transform over time and exposure to the orange-red rust tones we come to know with oxidized iron.

Due to the scarcity of these fossils at this site and sustainable color foraging practices – I will only be making a small amount of this pigment from what I collected. Once sample will be archived, one small sample will be used in a fine art piece to tell the story of the land from where these came, and the other 2 dram vial will be sold in the shop soon – 100% of the proceeds from the sale of this pigment (which will include some other little treasures collected from this spot) will be donated to SOS to help their fight with the expansion of the quarry.  If you are interested in purchasing the pigment and supporting this cause before I have the chance to get the store up and running – please email me at narrativeterrains@gmail.com for more information. Thank you and much love and light to you and yours !

Please see the links below for further reading on the topics mentioned in this post :

Pyrite | Formation / Oxidation

Pyrite Disease [1]

Pyritization 

Permineralization

Driftwood + Limestone | Schoharie, NY, The Story of a Quarry and Iron Sulphate Fossils – Part I

This weekend, in an escape from the news and the isolation of quarantine, I returned to a site in Schoharie, NY I visited last year in search of Devonian fossils, with a new purpose of foraging for color.

I had recalled, that part of the roadside rock cut composed of Lower Devonian Kalkberg and Becraft Limesone, that exposed millions of fossils of various varieties including brachs, bryzoans, crinoids, Phacops trilobites and spheroidal sponges, also had several spots of iron oxide deposits I wanted to revisit to take some samples for the Narrative Terrains pigment and story archive. Thankfully, I was the only one visiting this location today and this location lent to some pleasant, and disheartening surprises.

I collected some of the soil samples that were rich in color from the beautiful iron, my hands scooping the cold, damp sands coloring them with orange and yellow dust – and a rich earthy smell of disturbed soil surrounded me. I collected some beautiful fossils to add to my collection, but the remaining colors that I initially noticed had already been archived in the collection from my previous visit. However, I took a moment to meditate in this space, to breathe in the cool spring air, to give thanks to this space for it’s gifts and to offer reverence to the Haudenosaunee and Mohawk people that this land belonged to, to slow down in the moment and to pay attention to the details of my surroundings. It was after this pause, and reset that I began to notice the bright orange and red iron stains on some rock shards strewn along the hillside below the road cut cliffs.  Upon closer inspect, these rocks had broken in a way that each of them had a “centerpiece” of what looked like pure iron. The more I looked, the more I found and some of them retained the details of the organisms they once were …. and now they were transformed into amazing iron fossils, rich with earthy color. I will share more of this in Part II of this post …

Upon loading up my car with my finds for the day, leaving an offering of thanks for the gift the land provided I started to make my way home, but not before noticing a new path on the side of the road, leading behind the treasure laden road cut. I decided to investigate further, as i had a sneaking suspicion of what lay beyond the iron gate closing off the path. I parked and ventured only a few feet until it was obvious my suspicions were confirmed – a large, gaping hole of wounded earth stood before me, destruction of this amazing landscape, the erasing of geological history, the disruption of this beautiful environment, all man-made took form in this limestone quarry. It was a heartbreaking jolt back to the reality of the present, from my peaceful connection with the land just moments before.

I drove around a bit, down the hill from where I was previously perched above the gaping hole in the earth, and came to the processing machinery of the plant, just yards away from homes and the school centered in town. I was rather angry about all this, greeting my fiance Leo, who is currently finishing his doctoral dissertation in environmental adaptation and policy in rural communities, with a long rant about what I just witnessed and then decided to deep dive into the history of the land, and the man made destruction of it.

The land, known as Schoharie, which means “Driftwood” in the Mohawk language – was inhabited by the Mohawk peoples, one of the 6 members of the Iroquois Confederacy, or the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse). Archeological evidence of habitation in the region dates back 8,000-10,000 years – it has been suggested the earliest inhabitants were the ancestors of the Mohican, Delaware and Iroquois peoples. The land of the Mohawks extended from the Schoharie Creek through the Mohawk Valley, to the Genessee River. The area was colonized by Palatine Germans in 1713.

The stone quarry now occupies about 8 acres of land, and in 2004 purchased another 69 acres to expand it’s extraction.  The town of Schoharie has since been embroiled in a legal battle to prohibit that expansion that would cross over the site that i spend my Sunday afternoon in peace in.  There are many environmental and social danger associated with this expansion including permanent damage to the water table given that the geological formation is a karst, there are issues regarding air quality with dust from the mine, and the expansion will bring the mining operations closer to the backyards of Schoharies’s residence – as it is already encroaching on personal property.  The SOS (Save Our Schoharie) is an organization that has helped with donations to help fight the ongoing legal battle between the town and the mining corporation, in addition to supporting and sponsoring environmental impact testing on what the expansion could mean for the town. If you feel so inclined to write a letter of concern or opposition to the mining expansion, can offer legal assistance or expert advice that could better help them end this fight and the expansion, i have included their link below, as well as news articles relating to the ongoing battle.

Additionally, in my next post, i will share more information about the color i gathered at the location this past weekend, and will be offering a very special, limited edition of the pigment – and the proceeds from the sale of it will be donated to SOS to assist with their proceedings on trying to stop the expansion of the mining operations. I will be contacting SOS to learn more about the current status of the legal proceedings, ways to be able to help, and seeing if it possible to contact residents who oppose the mining operations to lean more about how it effects them and their families and land.

SOURCES FOR REFERENCE :

Save Our Schoharie (SOS)

Iroquois Indian Museum

NEWS : Times Journal : Schoharie to Cobelskill Stone – No!

NEWS : Watershed Post : Over 100 Outraged Schoharie Residents Protest Mining Expansion

Welcome To Narrative Terrains!

Welcome to Narrative Terrains ! This project has been a long time in the making – bits and pieces of it have surfaced over the years of being a professional artist, wanderer and lover of all things nature.  Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved playing in the dirt, experimenting and making art – so the foundation of this project seemed to take form organically.  I hope that you find these pages interesting and useful as a means of incorporating a new and intimate level to your creative process and connecting with the land, peoples and cultures around you – most importantly.  This project encourages sharing of knowledge and collaboration – so please be sure to keep and eye on our Collaboration opportunities, events and workshops, pigment archive and research collaborations and projects.  Also be sure to visit our Critical Forum to contribute to the conversation and share knowledges.  Many thanks for your interest and participation and I look forward to sharing what I come to know along this journey. Much love …