Finger Lakes Geology
For local fossils, the comprehensive Devonian Paleontology of New York by David M. Linsley is available free in PDF format here.
This booklet can be purchased by visiting the Museum store at PRI or through our online bookstore.
The following text is excerpted from Ithaca is Gorges: A Guide to the Geology of the Ithaca Area by Warren D. Allmon, Director of PRI, and Robert M. Ross, Director of Education at PRI.
The Finger Lakes region of New York State is one of the most geologically spectacular areas of the eastern United States. Few other places east of the Rockies expose so much sedimentary rock in such a visually striking manner. It is an area not only of extraordinary beauty, but also of extraordinary geological importance. Here we can not only marvel at geology, but also learn a great deal about it.
The Finger Lakes region in general, and Tompkins County and Ithaca in particular, contain some of the finest exposures of rocks known anywhere in the world from the interval of time known as the Devonian Period (415 to 360 million years ago).
Many of these rocks are very fossiliferous. Indeed, because of the exceptional exposure of the rocks in this region of central New York, much of the basic work on defining geology in North America in the nineteenth century was done right here.
The geology of the Finger Lakes region is controlled not only by its abundant Devonian rocks, but also by its recent glacial history. Together, the Devonian rocks that accumulated in a warm shallow sea more than 360 million years ago, and the action of massive sheets of ice that shaped those ancient rocks over the last two million years have produced this arresting landscape of lakes, hills, gorges and waterfalls.
The region's geology has been crucial to its human history. From the settlement patterns of Native Americans around sources of rock salt, to the modern patterns of forests, dairy farms, wineries, and recreational activities, the geological history of the Finger Lakes has profoundly affected where people have lived and what they have done on (and to) the land.