The Famous Crinoids


The Pioneer Heritage Library has a collection of crinoid fossils discovered               in the Le Grand area in the early twentieth century.



In 1874, a small "nest" of crinoid fossils was uncovered in the Le Grand Quarry. They were so well preserved that scientists from Iowa, Illinois, New Mexico, Indiana, and Massachusetts visited the site and with the cooperation of the quarry owner they excavated the fossils over a sixteen-year period. Charles Wachsmuth and Frank Springer were two of the scientists that visited the site They patiently answered the questions of a young farm boy, and inspired him with their enthusiasm, that farm boy was Burnice Beane.

Burnice Hartley Beane grew up on a farm at the edge of the Le Grand quarry. In the quiet times, between chores and schoolwork, he found time for his hobby -- collecting insects, bird eggs, rocks, and finally fossils. Beane helped his mother manage the family farm while his father toured the Midwest as an evangelist Quaker minister. They sold their cash crops of strawberries, watermelon and potatoes in Marshalltown and other nearby towns. He later married and returned to the family farm near the edge of the quarry. Here he raised his family and continued his interest in the fossils of Le Grand.

 As an enthusiastic youth, Burnice Beane saved the crinoids of Le Grand from the rock crusher because of his interest in fossils near his home. He added to his growing collection, kept records of his finds and studied the crinoid for over fifty years. Although a farmer by trade, many recognized him as an expert on the fossils of the Le Grand area. Le Grand Quarry: In 1909 the ownership of the Le Grand quarry passed to the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. The quarry produced Crushed stone for road and railway ballast, agricultural lime and building stone for the Old Iowa State Historical Building originated from the quarry.

 The quarry's most significant product however, is the small flower-like animals, crinoids, that are preserved in the rock. Crinoids are often called "sea lilies" or "feather stars" and are echinoderms (spiny-skinned animals) with skeletal parts made of calcareous (limy) plates. They have radial symmetry, digestive, nervous, reproductive and water vascular systems. Their delicate arms strain tiny marine life from the sea and move it toward its mouth.

Beane's most significant discovery came in 1931 when blasting exposed a cluster of ancient starfish. While workers loaded rock into the crusher, Beane chipped away at the block of stone to reduce it to a manageable weight. Still weighing over 600 pounds, he moved the slab to Beane's farm for study and careful cleaning . Beane, then 52, worked meticulously to uncover the delicate fossils. Upon preparation, the rock yielded the remains of 183 starfish, Schoenaster legrandensis, and a number of other specimens. This find and the care shown it its preparation gained Burnice Beane the interest of paleontologists and gained recognition in the scientific community across the world. Burnice Beane's painstaking skill in preparing the crinoids he saved from the crusher is a scientific legacy.

Through his efforts many museums across the world share a portion of Iowa's past. The State Historical Society of Iowa is fortunate to exhibit many of the fossils preserved and prepared by Burnice H. Beane.

These slabs hold the remains of crinoids and other invertebrate that died on the Iowa sea floor 350 million years ago. At that time Iowa was located near the equator and submerged under a warm sea. The death of these animals was non-violent and their bodies drifted into this depression to gently settle onto the limy mud. Layers of lime covered their remains and preserved them from destruction. When excavated their bodies lie randomly across the stone and show no current or wave action.

Beane's interest in the Le Grand crinoid continued throughout his life, it filled his house with beautiful fossil slabs and benefited museums and universities around the world. As his fame spread, many paleontologists and amateur collectors sought his advice and an opportunity to tour the famous quarry with the man who had become the guardian of its treasures.

 The Pioneer Heritage Library would like to thank the Beane family for the loan of their fossil collection and supporting materials.




This resource is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Librar

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