In the late 1800s, a rich trove of fossils was discovered in what is now northwestern Nebraska. Paleontologists visiting the Agate Springs quarries found these strange tree-sized underground spiral formations. They are made of hardened earth that that twists like a screw for nearly ten feet.
These were really puzzling. Most scientists thought it was the remains of some kind of extinct calcified plant. Or perhaps two plants, one twisting around the other. One deteriorates and leaves the remains of the other. That makes sense.
Dr. E. H. Barbour of the University of Nebraska around Harrison, Nebraska, thought they were the remains of giant freshwater sponges. Could be. The giant corkscrews were found at the site of immense freshwater lakes from the Miocene, thought to be some 20 million years ago old.
Prehistoric Gopher Burrow
Later, Dr. Thomas Barbour proposed that the corkscrews were the burrows of large rodents. Dr. Theodor Fuchs thought they might be the burrows of Miocene Gophers. This made sense, too. There were scratches that might have been claw marks.
Prehistoric Land Beaver Burrow
Then, a Paleocastor, a small fossilized beaver was discovered inside a corkscrew.
Paleocastors were similar to prairie dogs. They were about 5 inches by 12 inches. They lived on land burrowing, instead of near water building dams like beavers do now.
The marks that looked like rodent claw marks matched up to the beaver teeth.
So, Daemonelix, Devil’s Corkscrews are actually the fossilized spiral burrows of small ancient communal beavers.
Who is Frederick C. Kenyon?
The old photo I found says “Neuroanatomist Frederick C. Kenyon stands next to a Daemonelix burrow.” Who is Frederick C. Kenyon?
Frederic G. Kenyon was a British palaeographer and biblical and classical scholar. He was the Director and Principal Librarian at the British Museum. He was a scholar of ancient languages, specializing in the Bible. He lived from 1863 till 1952. Was he related to Frederick C. Kenyon? The eyes are similar. And the mustache. Maybe they are cousins.
A Frederick C Kenyon shows up on the 1940 Census. He was 23 years old, living at
912 High St. in Peoria, Illinois.
The caption says Frederick C. Kenyon is a neuroanatomist. Neuroanatomy is the scientific study of the anatomy of the nervous system. What does that have to do with the controversy over Devil’s Corkscrews?
Perhaps he was just there on vacation.
See Devil’s Corkscrews
The Agate Springs quarries was part of a ranch. Now it is the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. It is in Sioux County, Nebraska, not too far from Harrison. You can see Devil’s Corkscrews and other fossils.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska
Fossils and Much, Much More
During the 1890s, scientists rediscovered what the Lakota Sioux already knew—bones preserved in one of the world’s most significant Miocene Epoch mammal sites.
Yet, this place called “Agate” is a landscape that reflects many influences—from early animals roaming the valleys and hills, to tribal nations calling the High Plains home, to explorers passing through or settling in the American West.
Discover the Agate Fossil Hills
The Agate Fossil Hills has been a destination for paleontologists, explorers and National Park visitors.
There is a Visitor’s Center and two different hikes to see fossils.
The Daemonelix Trail features in situ fossil exhibits, while the Fossil Hills Trail takes visitors to and around the historic early 1900s quarries that are the source for the monument’s most famous fossil discoveries. Guides for both trails are located at the trailheads and in the visitor center.
This one-mile (1.6 km) trail at the west end of the park offers visitors a tour through through time. In addition to a dry land beaver’s curious spiral burrows, the Daemonelix or Devil’s Corkscrew, visitors see ancient sand dunes and fossil grassland soils called paleosols. From the number and concentration of their now petrified homes, paleontologists know that the paleocastor, the dry land beaver, formed and lived in colonies much like present-day prairie dogs. From the Daemonelix Trail’s highest point, visitors can look out over not only James H. Cook’s historic Agate Springs Ranch but also the vast, open tablelands that form the northern terminus of the High Plains east of the Rocky Mountains.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument also is also the best place to see Lakota cultural artifacts from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The owner of the Agate Springs Ranch, James H. Cook was friends with Red Cloud, chief of the Oglala Lakota. The Lakota gave Cook and his family gifts that make up a unique collection.
If you go, I would make it in Spring or Autumn.
Summer can be very hot with highs in the upper 90’s, sometimes 100 degrees or more. In the winter the temperatures can plummet to -10 or below. Winds can make it feel colder and dry you out in winter or summer. During the summer thunderstorms can build in the afternoon and some become violent. In the winter, you could experience blizzard conditions.