How Palaeontologists Decoded The Decades-Old Mystery Surrounding The Devil’s Corkscrews

Image: James St. John

Former frontier scout James H. Cook is walking the acres of his spread, the Agate Springs Ranch in Sioux County which lies in the Nebraska panhandle. The year is 1891 and Cook is about to stumble upon an extraordinary and baffling phenomenon on his land, which extends along the Niobrara River. Embedded in rock on a slope is a bizarre corkscrew formation.

Image: brewbooks

These weird fossil formations will come to be known as “devil’s corkscrews.” In fact, Cook is not the first settler to come across these strange naturally occurring rocks shaped into perfect helixes. They’ve been turning up in Nebraska’s north-west and neighboring Wyoming. The corkscrews are up to seven feet long and some spiral to the right while others turn to the left.

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