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Uncle Siphuncle

Site Prospecting 101

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Gatorman

Great post Dan, hopefully we will get some more tips and tricks out of this post.

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jbstedman

Thanks for a great posting. Your steps 2 and 3 are a major hurdle for me (and I suspect others). I have topographical maps as well as geological maps for the same areas, but putting them together often stumps me. Any way to elaborate on what you need to do to successfully navigate steps 2 and 3?

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Uncle Siphuncle

Certainly

2. Finsley's book shows a broad spectrum of marine and terrestrial fossils of all ages from all over TX, and the caption of each gives genus, species, formation, and county. Fossils are grouped in general categories such as plants, echinoids, ammonites, goniatites, crinoids, shark teeth, reptiles, mammals, etc. Each photo is referenced in more detail in another part of the book, citing stratigraphic range, similar species, etc. I have an even more comprehensive reference for Ohio for sale by the state, Fossils of Ohio I believe, that gives enough general info to point you in the right direction so that you can buy the right map, divide and conquer that formation in that county. Topo maps are helpful but geo maps are what you really need, mapping each formation as a different color. I would hope that each state has similar references and maps. Most museums or paleo clubs could name these go-to refs for their state.

3. Look at aerial outcrop of your formation of choice on your geo map. Open Mapquest and view that area, cross referencing creeks, rivers, and roads. Look for current exposures (cliffs, creeks, construction sites, road cuts). Jump in your car and visit these areas. Exploration is fun and rewarding, but don't expect every site visited on every trip to be a home run. In general the more remote or subtle the site, the better your chances of finding an unknown site.

7. A couple more notes on reading between the lines. Sometimes formations pinch or thin out and are therefore mapped undivided, meaning several fms are grouped together for mapping purposes. This often happens in steep topography not much exposure is in view from bird's eye view. Your job is to know the sequence of formations in that area so that if you see the map jump from one fm to another one several fms higher, mapped undivided in between, you need to recognize what might lie exposed in rapid succession in between. Also, if you see a dark line between fms with a U on one side and a D on the other, this is a faulted area with an upthrown and downthrown side of the fault. This is one other possible reason for maps skipping formations as post faulting, the upthrown side may have eroded. Faulting can also produce "outliers" which are upthrust "islands" of one formation that seem stratigraphically out of place.

Hope this helps! While reading about it is certainly helpful, learning by doing really drives the point home. If someone had laid down a structured approach like this or better for me early in the game I'd probably have twice the collection I have now.

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ashcraft

One thing I have found to find new site is google- use a keyword to your area with fossils- you will get many hits, some with locations. Google will also give you many scientific journal entries, usually not the whole thing however, you'll have to get it at your local univeristy library. These articles will often list collection locations.

Once you learn to recognize different stratigraphy, you can size up a site that you haven't been before fairly quickly.

The real key is looking, whever you are. I live in an area of loess on top of eocene clays, very unfossilferous. However, I walked to my neighbor's house this weekend for an estate auction (about .25miles), on the way back, I looked down in the road ditch, and found a 40 pound chunk of petrified wood. It could be from some cretaceous sandstone rip-rap brought in, but more likely from the eocene, as it does produce some petrified wood occasionally.

I never look up, might miss something.

Brent Ashcraft

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2gould

Dan:

Great post and very helpful for us newbies. Thanks for sharing.

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Gatorman

Once you find a decent site you can add it to the locations map :D

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Guest solius symbiosus
7. A couple more notes on reading between the lines. Sometimes formations pinch or thin out and are therefore mapped undivided, meaning several fms are grouped together for mapping purposes. This often happens in steep topography not much exposure is in view from bird's eye view. Your job is to know the sequence of formations in that area so that if you see the map jump from one fm to another one several fms higher, mapped undivided in between, you need to recognize what might lie exposed in rapid succession in between. Also, if you see a dark line between fms with a U on one side and a D on the other, this is a faulted area with an upthrown and downthrown side of the fault. This is one other possible reason for maps skipping formations as post faulting, the upthrown side may have eroded. Faulting can also produce "outliers" which are upthrust "islands" of one formation that seem stratigraphically out of place.

Hope this helps! While reading about it is certainly helpful, learning by doing really drives the point home. If someone had laid down a structured approach like this or better for me early in the game I'd probably have twice the collection I have now.

My area is probably one of the worst around for distinguishing temporal relationships of the beds(facies). I find it helpful to make a strat column for each site, and try to correlate from that.

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Uncle Siphuncle

Solius

I had trouble distinguishing formations in the Cincinnatian because everything is the same color and contacts are arbitrarily set on subtle changes in lithology and/or brachiopod beds I have trouble finding. I couldn't point at the contact between the Kope and Fairview if my life depended on it as from what I read one has a little more clay than limestone and vice versa.

I found TX to be an excellent training ground as many of the juxtaposed formations contrast sharply in lithology, color, and fauna. Sometimes lithological character is opposed to the point that surface expression is obvious, and contacts can be followed even on vegetated terrain. With experience one can narrate what formations are being driven over with the wife in the truck...not exactly the way to win the hearts and minds of the ladies, especially the ones who don't collect!

I love strat columns as well, but folks new to collecting might have trouble finding them for specific sites in the beginning. As soon as the basic refs for a given state are in hand, by all means try to get strat column diagrams in hand as they'll accelerate the learning process. Even if the fossils have already been taken, the lithology is still there and can be learned from. This is an excellent and more specific example of the type of documentation alluded to in Step 6 in my original post.

As an aside, I'll note that the Roadside Geology of "Your State Here" series available at most bookstores has been a disappointment to me for all states investigated. These books are not paleo specific, and most of the sites seem to be pretty well played out. Stick with paleo specific references if your quest is paleo centric. Once you get the basic go-to refs for your state, concentrate on museum and university published references, paleo journals, etc. Even if you don't understand the minutiae, the locality info will be in plain English.

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TheFossilHunter

Excellent thread Dan,

What I would like to add is just a few little things:

1. When you search for sites on a search engine, do not limit yourself to just saying fossils and your state name....try different combinations...for example, for Pennsylvania, "fossils in PA, fossils Pennsylvania", pennsylvanian fossils, fossil locations PA...etc...some entries will show up for certain combinations only.

2. When youve found a site or gone to a well known site...try looking close by for another exposure..fossils there might be just as good.

3. you can find geologic maps with the roads already overlayed...that will make finding sites easier.

Mike

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LanceH

I would add that in some areas (like Texas) the geological layers dip/rise at a certain angle. A fossilferous zone maybe near road level at one spot BUT be at the top of a hill a few miles away.

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Uncle Siphuncle

Further to Lance's comment, paying attention to dip will effect where a given formation or contact between formations will actually fall in a stream valley mapped as alluvium. If a stream runs against the dip, the exposure will be much shorter than if the stream runs along the dip.

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non-remanié

Oh you make it sound so easy in Tx! In NJ it goes more like this. Search for a potential outcrop of ANY age that MAY or may not contain fossils. Hope its park or county land rather than private property and that no one bothers you or sees you with a digging instrument. Then pray that the outcrops on your geo-map are actually exposures and not really 10 feet below the surface of a creek. If its a construction site or in any "neighborhood", you just have to trespass and hope they only kick you out if you are caught. Asking permission will get you nowhere 95% of the time in the "lawyer state". Despite all this, there are plenty of potential fossil sites here, its just impossible or impractical (walk 5 miles) to gain access to the vast majority which is very frustrating! :>

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Uncle Siphuncle

Tooth Puller

TX is over 95% privately owned as well, and rural landowners have a reputation of having "shootin' irons" within reach down here - a reputation that I, as a hunter and outdoorsman, have seen to be somewhat true. I've had landowners try to shoo me away from questionably public waterways when asking permission, and at that point I often pull in the sheriff and game warden into the picture to clarify my legal right to be there and just go on in at that point, most of the time encountering no one.

There is a fine line between being legal and illegal down here, a line I am willing to walk and generally know how far I can push my luck. Many collectors aren't willing to walk this line, aren't willing to put forth the physical effort or financial expense to access some of these areas, or simply don't know about them. In my experience, these factors singly or combined have produced some nice finds for my buddies and me who compose the lunatic fringe of collecting in my area.

The moral of the story is that if you do your detective work thoroughly, you generally won't encounter other collectors or their handywork in the field. I think it also helps that not many people have a sincere interest in collecting in the areas where I live and collect. This is a working class area where most folks just worry about making ends meet and/or have other interests. The DFW area for instance has more exposures and more people who collect.

There is no substitute for knowledge of the geology and paleontology of your preferred collecting area. Moving a few hundred yards can often put you in a different formation, especially in a faulted area like where I live. For instance tonight I took my boy to a construction site in the Pecan Gap chalk where I saw a recently dug deep pit. The gray chalk piles beckoned and a quick look turned up a large echinoid, probably a 2 inch Proraster dalli. Although the site was out in the open, apparently nobody had yet perused it. Flexibility in schedule and diligence won't pay out every single time, but on average the payoff is pretty good.

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non-remanié
Tooth Puller

TX is over 95% privately owned as well, and rural landowners have a reputation of having "shootin' irons" within reach down here - a reputation that I, as a hunter and outdoorsman, have seen to be somewhat true. I've had landowners try to shoo me away from questionably public waterways when asking permission, and at that point I often pull in the sheriff and game warden into the picture to clarify my legal right to be there and just go on in at that point, most of the time encountering no one.

There is a fine line between being legal and illegal down here, a line I am willing to walk and generally know how far I can push my luck. Many collectors aren't willing to walk this line, aren't willing to put forth the physical effort or financial expense to access some of these areas, or simply don't know about them. In my experience, these factors singly or combined have produced some nice finds for my buddies and me who compose the lunatic fringe of collecting in my area.

The moral of the story is that if you do your detective work thoroughly, you generally won't encounter other collectors or their handywork in the field. I think it also helps that not many people have a sincere interest in collecting in the areas where I live and collect. This is a working class area where most folks just worry about making ends meet and/or have other interests. The DFW area for instance has more exposures and more people who collect.

There is no substitute for knowledge of the geology and paleontology of your preferred collecting area. Moving a few hundred yards can often put you in a different formation, especially in a faulted area like where I live. For instance tonight I took my boy to a construction site in the Pecan Gap chalk where I saw a recently dug deep pit. The gray chalk piles beckoned and a quick look turned up a large echinoid, probably a 2 inch Proraster dalli. Although the site was out in the open, apparently nobody had yet perused it. Flexibility in schedule and diligence won't pay out every single time, but on average the payoff is pretty good.

There is definitely a fine line to walk. I too would probably be considered on the fringe of collectors in NJ, obsessed at the very least. I have actually done quite well at staying completely within reasonable expectations of legality compared to what I have heard of generations of collectors before me. There are just so many areas (almost all the areas with the highest potential) that I know I absolutely can not access. The best exposures here are usually on small tributaries of larger streams and almost always these tribs fall on private property and most are heavily posted like almost any wooded tract of land that is privately owned. I probably would not go to the limit of telling the authorities that I have a "right" to be at any spot because they always seem to favor the landowners point of view anyway. A very popular fossil site that is actually sanctioned for fossil colelcting by the county park system actually closed access to a very large section of stream just to appease one landowner who absolutely does not own the streambed adjacent to his small property. I, of course, ignore this and just do it anyway but I am not 100% confident that they wouldn't fine me if I were to get caught somehow. Another big problem in NJ is that there are laws on the book that basically state that on any county and park land (let alone state land) no one is allowed to remove even a single rock, let alone dig a hole for an "artifact" which is what fossils are considered to them. Of course these laws are set up this way to give discretion to the authorities, but it doesn't give us collectors much of a standing. Basically I just have to do my best flying under the radar and in case I do encounter problems maybe just "play dumb". If I really believed I had a legal right to be doing what I was doing/planning to do then I might be more confrontational, but it seems like no matter how I slice it, they can tell me "NO WAY".

Despite my complaints I have found some pretty good new sites for NJ that I have had no problems accessing. They are definitely out there, just not quite in the areas I would like them to be. Suburbanity mixed with small discontinuous outcrops makes it tough, but I guess the spoils are worth more this way, One good thing is that I am not really too concerned with landowners with those "shootin' irons" as you have to deal with, but it did happen once when an angry hunter tried to tell me he owned a tract of land which he obviously didn't. But I had to take his word for it and walk the 2 miles back to my car without getting to do any collecting that day since he did have a rifle. He was the one who shouldn't have been hunting there, but even my sharpest sharks teeth were no match!

You do incredibly well walking that line as you say, so keep it up! It was a great detailed post and hopefully it helps some folks out there.

-steve

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Uncle Siphuncle

I suppose the laws here tip things in my favor. Most "navigable" waterways are considered public by our sheriffs and game wardens so long as they are accessed from public bridges, and we are allowed access up to a point "half way up the gradient boundary". Confusing as it sounds, I tend to give the warden a call in advance and if given the thumbs up, I'm on my way no matter what the landowner thinks. In fact, some seem to believe that they own the stream bed by default if they own both sides of the creek...not the case in the eyes of the law if I can navigate it with my kayak and it averages more than 30 feet wide. Strangely, the wardens of various counties have even told me I was OK collecting certain intermittent or dry stream beds, which to me didn't seem legal as per wording of existing statutes, but I went anyway, took my phone and their phone number in my pack, and completed my march heavily laden with prime fossils by day's end on several occasions.

I've been run off of construction sites down here but have never heard of anyone being cited. Common sense plays in...don't get hurt, stay away from machinery and materials whether crews are there or not, and don't sue a contractor if you do get hurt or they'll kick everyone off forever. You get hurt=your problem.

Anyway, one of the golden rules while walking the line is to do it alone. One or two people generally don't raise eyebrows; 10+ do.

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Evilwezal

The few places I have collected was privately owned. I've always introduced my self and asked for permission to enter the property. I've never been turned away and most people are interested in the fossils on their land anyways. I always make it a point to give the landowner a good fossil that I find.

From a Law Enforcement standpoint(I'm a Deputy Sheriff) I would always side on the Landowners side. Oklahoma Law is very clear on Landowner rights. Trespassing is never a good idea imho.

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Buttoneer

Could I get your permission to put your methods in the Central Pennsylvania Rock & Mineral Club Newsletter? Your methods were excellent and I believe would help a lot of us Pennsylvanians.

Thank you very much, Judy Showers (Pennsylvania)

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lawooten

I have found that topographic maps to be a major tool in finding sites and I have studied them extensively when locating sites to collect artifacts and fossils. I also use stratigraphy, structure and phosphate deposit reports that tell me what the area is made up of and there boundaries. Aerial photos are also a big help when looking at for certain types of sites. We also have a program that we can go to areas on line and find out who the land owners are in a given area so we can contact them for permission and access their land. This program is very expensive though. This is also public information and can be found through the tax office. They have maps of the lands you may be wanting to check and you can get contact that way also.

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siteseer

The purpose of this thread is to help the newbies out there develop the skills and techniques required to locate sites independently. 5 years ago when I decided to get serious in this pursuit I realized that the only way to enjoy the steady diet of quality fossils I so desired would be to get out and do some prospecting. The following list is a general guideline. Perhaps other experienced collectors could weigh in with tips and techniques I may have omitted.

As you can see, finding new sites is neither easy nor free, especially with today's fuel prices, but I can tell you from personal experience that it is one of the most rewarding parts of the pursuit. Teaming up with a like minded buddy will help you extend your range by splitting expenses. There are no real short cuts unless you are willing to stick to the well known spots or join a club, neither a bad option when starting out. In my state and at my current experience level I hit solid paydirt perhaps 25% of the time. That's a whole lot of driving and armchair research for the few good sites I find, but then again the good things in life are worth the sacrifice.

I have spent a lot of time at librairies researching sites and particular taxa for myself and other people. The more time you spend doing that, the easier it is to find the next article because you build a layout of the library in your head. Sometimes, there's more than one interesting article in the same issue you tracked down. I was looking for one thing and ended up with an article on a crab locality in the Kettleman Hills (Kings County, CA). I checked out the site and didn't find anything but it gave me another place to look next time - another place to go on a walkabout from.

I know that most people hate going to the library and won't do it but that's what gives you an advantage. I find all kinds of interesting stuff on things I'm not interested in

Yes, you can always play it safe and go with a club or hit the sites in the guides you can buy at Barnes & Noble but you have to willing to spend hours going through journals and hiking hills to find spots of your own where no one else has dug out all the good stuff already.

Also, it's like looking for a job. It helps to network. I have met people who became friends at gem shows - people who hunted the same formations before I was born or when I was a kid. They can fill in the blanks of the articles/books you find, answering the questions you were left with, and tell you how areas have changed and who you should talk to now. They can tell you what is probably a waste of time now so you don't burn some gas and cash checking it out yourself. They might even be able to put in a good for you with a landowner who wouldn't otherwise let you collect. There are collectors out there who don't have a computer and who don't plan to get one but still remember the 1940's and 50's.

At construction sites I see in California (and Florida) there is almost always a "No Trespassing" sign and they should be obeyed. Why take a chance on getting arrested sneaking into an active sand quarry when you can find an abandoned one with a little extra legwork?

Yes, you should always hunt with a friend anyway. You might need help if your vehicle gets stuck or if someone finds something really big (like a huge chunk of sandstone with sea urchins all over it) or if someone gets hurt. One morning in Nevada, I spotted a sleeping rattler in the trail ahead before my friend stepped too close and we gave it a wide berth.

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siteseer

Tooth Puller

There is no substitute for knowledge of the geology and paleontology of your preferred collecting area. Moving a few hundred yards can often put you in a different formation, especially in a faulted area like where I live. For instance tonight I took my boy to a construction site in the Pecan Gap chalk where I saw a recently dug deep pit. The gray chalk piles beckoned and a quick look turned up a large echinoid, probably a 2 inch Proraster dalli. Although the site was out in the open, apparently nobody had yet perused it. Flexibility in schedule and diligence won't pay out every single time, but on average the payoff is pretty good.

Danwoehr,

There are micro-teeth in the Pecan Gap Chalk. Have you even found any? Bruce Welton once sent me a couple of tiny squaloid teeth from it. I have wondered if anyone was still collecting in that.

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djasper

Very useful information. Thank you

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sseth

Great information. I am aquiring the suggested maps for Utah and am going to use Google earth to overlay them. I think this will give a very good frame of reference for discovering new sites. Thanks

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Uncle Siphuncle

We all have a slightly different style in dealing with sites and landowners....keep it fun!

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fig rocks

Good stuff, Dan! :)

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