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From Fossil Buyer To Fossil Hunter



The below is from a post I responded to, I was actually kind impressed I typed so much with out noticing. So figured... it makes a good opening blog post. If it helps or gives advice to at least one person. It was worth the long winded response.

I'm new to fossil hunting, I'm wanting to take the leap from Fossil Buyer to Fossil Hunter

I tried to jump to the "point me to a site to dig and find a fossil", litterally only 1 site in Illinois <where I live> is famous and openned to all for part of the year... Mazon Creek <which unfortunately is a day trip away for me>

So started using google. Everything still pointed to Mazon Creek or Rockford area <even farther away>.

Now Mazon creek fossils are famous and worth the trip and chance to collect. But, its heavily collected, over grown this time of year. <I learned the hard way by visiting>

Everything I was told localy said there was nothing here, it was all wiped out by the ice ages, and then it was just flat prarie land.

I just couldnt accept that. I had to know for sure.

Now onto my approach to this.

I started with some of original geological surveys for my state. <talking 1880's reports for my state>. The great part about this portion was reading the reports and understanding what was here before all the major cities, highways, dams and general human land modifications that have occured. The shear amount of geographic modifications we humans do, its down right scary. But, the best part about this. It is that these first geologists where not biased to one location or another. They noted what they found and where. The Economical surveys have proven to be my best finds so far, Since the geologists used the found fossils at these sites to build up the picture of the geological layering and composition of the forming regions. And the best part is they were using the same Quadrangle maps that became standard for the USGS civil mapping projects back then. The maps break down to the township and section locations then break down to the location with in the grid. It really narrows it down quite a bit. In addition to the geology of a area, they not unique features at times, stone quarrys, clay pits and old mines. Not only vertical mines, but also slope mines and bank excavations. Nearly all of these sites have been abandoned and forgotten now.

From the orginal surveys I worked up thru the years. I did not read every county within the survey. I concentrated on things within an hour drive of home. So this narrowed my reading down to approx 8 counties. Unfortunately what i found going up thru the surveys and closer to present. They changed more and more into technical mobo jumbo that I didnt go to college for. They were less and less deverse and started to lack clues of where to locate my objective. Which was always easily reachable fossils.

Most of those surveys are free online, either thru your state geological survey department or most e-book retailers even have some for free. Personally I have a nook, so i use Barnes and Nobles, IGSG and USGS for alot of my stuff.

Additionally Quadrangle maps, 7.5 minute, 30 minute and 1:100,000 USGS maps and topographies. I cant stress they maps enough. These maps come in MANY types. examples I use now: topography, surface deposit, quaternary deposit, loess, moraines deposits.

Now the newer maps <since 2008> have been updated to be more percise than the older maps, so somethings are a little off from what you will read in these old surveys. But Its easy to cross reference the locations since each of the locations will mention the land holders name 9 times out of 10. With that information you can check at a local library in that county for a Plat Book for the year in question and narrow it down further. But most of the times you get the general area.

Now the above information will kinda give you a idea of whats actually around and under all that concrete thats been poured.

Next came the fun parts and also make interesting days trips for learning the geology in your area. Geological Field Trip Guide Books!

Geological Field Trip Guide Books are basicly a field trip containing a route, locations and points of interest. Here in Illinois the ISGS has 4 annual field trips. They are basicly a way to engage the public to geology. Each book has a Full route, Map, distance, what is at each stop and some historical facts. They are designed to not only follow along with on the day of that planed field trip, but also to be followed by other groups or individuals at later times. In nearly each field trip I have read thru, there is at least 1 stop for collecting Rocks or Fossils. And each time they have been a site I may have driven past a dozen times in my life and never thought to look there. Older field guides are usually available for free off most geological survey sites. However newer ones may cost a few dollars. Most have been made available online but pre 1985 ones here in Illinois have to be purchased printed for a couple bucks from the geological survey.

Now next up on my reading list was my state geology book. Here in Illinois our ISGS <Illinois State Geological Survey> has a book written by them with a complete overview of the state geology. This filled in alot of gaps for me and has started to lay a firm ground work for my knowlege <It ain't all greek anymore!!!> I attempted to read this first, but alot didnt make sense to me, partly due to the fact the local geology was a mystery since I just moved here not long ago. Beyond that I have read a few other geology books for my area of the country.

At last I found my "bible" per say at my local library. Its called "Fossils for Amateurs - A handbook for collectors" by Russel P. MacFall and Jay Wollin. I really wish I would have started with this book. The book was written in 1972, but every bit of it is still valid. This is a "must" purchase. After borrowing it from the library, I ended up searching and buying a near mint copy off Amazon for $11.

Unfortunately there are no active geological clubs around me. There was one, but there website has been defunct for over 2 years now. Check for a local club, this would be a great option.

Last but not least, Surfing the net! I just browse and find some interesting things now and again. Some youtube video, flickr <thanks to alot of cams now having GPS>, facebook, news article or blog post. Found a few leads this way. I will also say i've found a few sites that were illegal to hunt and collect in this way too. But take those sites and view the geology and most times you will find a site outside of the park boundaries that is accessable and huntable :)

Now all thru my journey thru this "education" process I have been documenting the sites mentioned thru all of these sources thru Google Earth. This gives me the satalite view of the areas and a way to plot them. Once I visit a site and locate specimans I use my Garmin GPS to note the exact location and Log them in my journal. That way I can update the locations on my google earth files. In addition, google earth and streetview are excellent for discovering rock outcrops, streams, and interesting features while Im planning my excursion. This allows me to have a goal, but also gives me alternate sites incase the first place is a bust.

So that has been my approach, so far I have cataloged approx 50 sites from my research. I've only had time so far to Verify 3 due to work schedule and crappy spring-summer weather. Each one in a place that was "Bull dozed by glaciers" and buried under yards of loess.

Luckily for me, There are Silurian and thin devonian beds in my coverage area. And I am quite partial to those eras. But most eras above the Pennsylvanian has been cleared by the glacial advances over the last 100k years. Still I have hope that maybe one day I'll come accross some loess from the jurassic that was sheared off and deposited in a moraine contaning a dino bone and become the first person to locate one in Illinois :)

So this is what i've learned so far.

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I was in Peoria for ten years. We collected Mazon nodules in abandoned coal strip mines around Astoria. That was 20 years ago. I hear they are harder to find these days. There are great limestone quarries along the Mississippi but you need permission. We got in with groups. I hear there aren't many that let collectors in on weekends but you talk to them they might let you in. Good luck

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