Florida is well-known as an excellent location to find fossils. There are a wealth of sites for both vertebrate and invertebrate fossils from the last 44 million years of earth history at or near (within 50 ft) the surface. Most of these localities are of marine origin and span the length and width of the state. Mixed in with or above the marine rocks are terrestrial (land-based) fossils from the Oligocene epoch up until recent times. Florida has the distinction of being the richest state for vertebrate fossils from both land and marine animals east of the Mississippi River.

Many people on our fossil hunting tours ask how we finds the sites that we take them to; is it totally random or do we know what to look for to find a site? Can I find fossils anywhere I dig a hole?

Fossil hunt

Fossil hunting tour on the Peace River

The way to find a site is to have some prior knowledge or do your homework on the general geology of the area in the state you would like to look. For instance, the area in which I live in east-central Florida has marine rocks and sands from the Pleistocene epoch (2 million- 10,000 yrs old) near the surface. Many of the fossils easily found are invertebrate shells, snails and sand dollars. They can be found in beaches, canal banks, river beds, spoil islands in the intracoastal waterway or in shell pits where fill material is mined. The fill material is used for driveways, parking lots, road beds, and beach replenishment. Scanning almost any shelly looking material anywhere away from the beach will turn up some invertebrate fossils. Occasionally, vertebrate fossils will turn up in this shelly material but they will be nowhere near as common as invertebrate fossils.

The Peace River area, for another example, is in west-central Florida. While Pleistocene shells and invertebrate material of roughly the same age are present here as well, late Pleistocene land vertebrate fossils (mammoth, mastodon, saber-tooth cat, tapir, horse, giant armadillo etc.) are more commonly found mixed into the shells. Only 15-20 ft below the Pleistocene layers are Miocene age (5-15 million year old) marine fossils found in a layer of sediment. This layer of sediment is composed of gravels, sands and clays and is mined locally for fertilizer. The gravel is composed of  phosphate rock, which is highly organic and good for this purpose. The Peace River washes out this same layer from it’s banks and bottom and in some areas is full of fossils.

fossil tour mammoth tooth

Karen G. and her baby mammoth tooth

All of this means that looking in the places where fossil-bearing layer is exposed can help you find the fossils from the age you’re looking for. If you want to find Megalodon shark teeth, look where the teeth are! Even easier.

Finding a good GENERAL location, like the Peace River or one of the phosphate mines is a start. What you’ll really need after you do all your geology homework and river and mine exploration are SPECIFIC locations that produce the fossils you’re looking for. It’s possible to get lucky and hit the jackpot on your first try but usually it requires diligence and effort to find a good site.

While there are many excellent sites for fossils in Florida, access to them can also make collecting difficult. Many people choose to go where others can’t and will dive rivers and ocean bottoms. Others will have access to private locations where the public can’t generally collect, such as a phosphate mine, making things easier or at least exclusive to few if any other people.  Where you choose to look, and your success, is sometimes dependent on your time, abilities and access. Great fossils are out there, doing your homework, asking questions and getting yourself out there in likely locations will go a long way to fossil finding success.

Paleo Discoveries takes people on guided fossil hunting tours to help find fossils from different locations in central Florida including the Peace River. Many people like to hire a fishing guide to help them find fish; we’re here to help you find the fossil fish! Plus mammoth, mastodon, dire wolf, tapir, horse, camel, whale, dolphin and shark teeth and more.

Our guided fossil hunting tours are arranged by reservation on weekends and weekdays all year. It helps both you and us to give at least a few days notice before booking your tour but don’t hesitate to give us a try the night before if need be. A deposit is not required. We generally are reaching areas by canoe with boats and equipment we supply but we also can do walk-in tours without a canoe. Please call (772) 539-7005 or email- fredmazza at paleodiscoveries dot com  for more info or visit www.paleodiscoveries.com or http://scottg17.sg-host.com

Hope to see you on the river!