Cleveland Museum of Natural History excavators had to work quickly, scouring the exposed earth for black shale. The Devonian-era Cleveland shale was 360 million years old and was rapidly collected to avoid being lost forever, as it would become inaccessible under a paved highway. The Interstate-71 dig, led by then-museum director William E. Scheele, was a race against time to preserve the past.
In 1965, Scheele began the I-71 excavation project. Massive amounts of earth had been ripped out in preparation for the interstate west of Cleveland’s downtown, exposing the history-laden shale. The excavation obtained what was once the floor of a shallow sea not far from the equator. Conditions were just right to fossilize and even preserve some of the softer tissue in fish, invertebrates and plants.
The museum is still processing the rocks, with around 3,000 hours of work put into analyzing a single artifact. A major find in the slate has been the dunkleosteus terrelli, the largest predator of its era. “Dunk,” a giant armored skull, is on display at the museum today. While the slate loaded here could be on display or still sitting on the unsorted shelf at CMNH waiting to be analyzed, it represents the museum’s ongoing dedication to preserving Ohio fossils.