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If you have ever wanted to actually hold a piece of a mammoth, there is no better place in the U.S. to do so than the Peace River in Central Florida. In addition to holding the remains of fossilized mammoth teeth, bones, and ivory, the River is a treasure trove for countless other prehistoric beasts and native peoples.

Discovering Florida’s Past Through Fossils

By: Mike Jerrard

Located in Bone Valley, the Peace River area is home to countless fossilized remains of prehistoric animals. Best of all is the ease of which you can become an amateur paleontologist.

With just a shovel, a sifting tray, and a mere $5 fossil collecting permit from the state of Florida, you can be on your way to creating your very own museum at home.

Peace River

There are many river access points allowing for self guided tours or you can arrange a guided tour with a kayak rental company or fossil club.

Of course with any treasure, there are dangers hindering its discovery. In this case, the Peace River is home to large alligators, poisonous snakes, fire ants, and submerged fallen logs which can make fossil hunting tricky. It is definitely a river to be respected but with some planning and safety precautions, you can come away with an incredible experience.

Fossil Megalodon and Great White Shark Teeth

I have met some very interesting characters in my many trips to the Peace, some of which camped there for months on end making somewhat of a living collecting and selling their finds.

Their finds were sometimes quite impressive with such discoveries such as large ground sloth claws, sabre toothed cat teeth, mammoth tusks, and jaguar jaws. Florida was even more wild and untamed than it is today.

Human Artifacts: Spear Points & Tools

There have also been countless artifacts of human origin found in the river and surrounding area. Beautifully hand carved spear points and potsherds are just some of the treasures that have been unearthed.

Mammoth Teeth

Should you come across any human artifacts it is asked that you leave them where you find them.Your fossil collecting permit does not allow for the collection of human associated relics.

You are welcome to keep your animal and plant fossils although it is requested that you report any unusual finds to The Program of Vertebrate Paleontology.The Program has 60 days to request that the finder donate his or her findings after which time they then become the property of the finder.

Bear in mind the wealth that important finds can bring to science far outweigh any monetary value they could fetch.

Left to Right: Fossil Glyptodon Scutes, Sampling of Peace River Fossils including deer, turtle, alligator, bison, & shark

Over the years of my explorations along the Peace River I have been fortunate enough to find large megalodon shark teeth, glyptodon shell fragments, mastodon ivory, prehistoric whale bones, and spear points. Note that all artifacts of human origin were photographed and then placed back in the area along the river they were found.

My greatest discovery however, albeit tragic, were the remains of a large female mammoth along with its baby.

With annual floods and a constantly changing river, each year brings new discoveries and although collecting over the years has depleted much of the larger fossils, there are still fossils to be discovered.

Late winter is the best time to search as that is when the river is at its lowest. This makes wading and hiking along the river much easier. It also allows you to spot and keep tabs on gators and snakes when the water is lower.

My advice is to search in areas far from the main entry points as those areas are heavily visited by people as well as looking for gravel areas in the river as you won’t find much in the sandy areas.

Cottonmouth Snake

Fossil hunting is definitely an art, although anyone can come away with million year old shark teeth on their first outing. As you become more involved you begin to get a sixth sense of what areas will produce great finds. Note that your fossil collecting permit does not allow collecting in state parks nor does it allow trespassing on private property.

I cannot recommend Mark Renz’s book, ” Fossiling in Florida” enough. It contains a wealth of information which will have you eager to literally get your feet wet and start digging.

It is his amazing findings over the years which inspired me to move to Florida for five years and follow in his footsteps. You can purchase a copy along with gain more insight into fossil hunting in the Peace River on his website: www.fossilexpeditions.com.

Two other books that are a must are:

Florida’s Fossils- Guide to Location, Identification, and Enjoyment, by Robin C. Brown. This book has a great fossil identification guide along with valuable maps.

The Fossil Vertebrates of Florida, by Richard Hulbert Jr. A much more complex and detailed book, this has a wealth of information for the more advanced collector.

You can purchase your Florida Fossil Permit at : www.flmnh.ufl.edu

    24 Comments

  1. This is was so interesting, I wished I had seen this before I came back from Florida!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Ryan – perhaps now you have an excuse to plan a return trip!

  2. This is very cool! Didn’t know you can do this out there. Could be dicey with the alligators! lol!!

    • Thanks Geff! Haha yes, you do have to watch out for predatory wildlife when you’re in the Florida rivers, though we’ve never been attacked. Adds to the atmosphere of adventure though knowing they’re out there!

  3. What a great way to realise the ancient history of places you visit. I’ve never been to Florida but a fossil hunt would be a great way to discover it’s past. Thanks for sharing something different to do on a trip there.

    • You’re welcome Julie! Yes, there are some really fascinating finds here, and it’s not usually something tourists include on their itinerary. Usually you only find locals down at the rivers. So definitely something different if you’re heading to Florida at some stage :)

  4. Great post! I didn’t know that you could go by yourself looking for fossils and that you could even keep them. This is a great way to know local ancient history. Do you think that with all the climate changes, this kind of activity might be at risk?

    • Thanks Marlene! Absolutely – Florida is full of fossils – you should also keep an eye out for shark teeth which often washes up across the coastline when you’re at the beach. Some very cool finds!

      It could go either way with climate change affecting this type of activity, and it definitely depends on where you go, for instance, outside of Florida, climate change in Siberia is melting the permafrost which is allowing big new finds to be recovered.

      A lot of the time fossils fall free from embankments because of erosion, and then float into new areas with the changing of tides. Any big dramatic weather changing event is honestly pretty good for fossil hunting because it allows new areas to be uncovered and found.

  5. This has gone straight onto the list of things to do when I eventually do my USA trip, stiffing for dinosaur fossils for just $5 you cant go wrong haha. I’m jut imagine what it would be like to come a across a tooth of a sabre tooth Lion :D – Like you say although tragic, it must have been amazing to come across the mammoth fossils though?

    • Awesome Amit – it’s such a fun activity! And absolutely, it’s an incredible thrill to uncover something like a mammoth tooth which you know could be millions of years old. It’s a sense of real exploration and discovery!

  6. Amazing! I once tried artifact hunting on a field in Germany that was (is) famous for fossils and failed miserably :-)
    I have one question, though, regarding the human remains: If they are placed back to where they were found, aren’t they picked up every five seconds by somebody else?

    All the best,
    C

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Carola! Re the human artifacts, if everyone follows the rules, they will remain where they are, and continue to add historic significance to the area. The idea is that you appreciate them without removing them from the site. But yes, technically the next person could take it with them.

      The nice thing about fossil hunting though is that it’s not an activity which is overwhelmed with people out on the rivers, so something you discover might have only been found by a couple of other people before you :)

  7. I love the landscape of Central Florida and all the beautiful springs but I didn’t know about fossil hunting! What a fun thing to add to my list next trip

    • Glad we could introduce you! It’s such a fun activity, and I love the sense of discovery and exploration you get from being out there. Definitely consider setting aside some time on your next trip!

  8. Wow! A mammoth and its baby! It’s amazing that we still can find untouched fossils, it gives me hope! Didn’t know this experience was available in Florida. Will have to check it out…

    • Really is incredible the sheer amount of fossils out there which are still being found. And as water levels and weather patterns change, more and more areas are being unearthed every day :)

  9. Peace River, what a nice for a river. I am absolutely amazed at what one can find in these fossil hunting trips. I guess the best of the fossils are all taken.
    I agree with the authorities that they have the first right over the finds. The study of the fossils such an immense insight into our past.
    You know what? I just added the fossil park to my list! :)

    • It is a nice name isn’t it! And very fitting, as it is very peaceful being out there too!

      Yes, it does always seem as though all of the best finds have already been found, but water levels and weather patterns change all the time, which shifts soil and embankments, and unearths new fossils for us to find!

      It’s hard because when you find something incredible you obviously want to keep it as a token of the day, but I agree that the scientific insight and benefit from having these finds studied is something we have to outweigh.

  10. I am always fascinated by human artifacts. The fossils. Aaaargh. They make you think of your existence and give you a lot of realizations. And I agree on leaving the artifacts where you find them. I wish I can easily go to Florida or the US in that case without going through so much for visa application. But I will because I think, it will be worth it.

    • Me too! Human artifacts are particularly fascinating – I find it so interesting to let my mind visualize what it would have been like using those tools millions of years ago. And knowing that something physical I’m holding today was used by someone who lived so long ago. It’s mind boggling!

      I hope you do have the opportunity to visit Florida at some point in the future, and get some fossil hunting in. All the best for your visa application :) Happy holidays!

  11. I love all the hidden places to explore in Florida. There is so much to do besides the theme parks and party in Miami.

    Between the numerous state parks and the three national parks, plus all the history there is so much to see and do around the state.

    • Absolutely – the party scene in Miami is not even part of our Florida bucketlist with so much incredible nature to explore! My only hope is that the environment and ecosystems remain preserved – Florida is being developed at a really rapid pace, and the charm of the State is in it’s natural, wild places, so I hope they’re here to stay!

  12. We will be in the area this weekend how would we book a trip with you for fossil and shark teeth hunting ?

    • Hi Danny & Tammy, fabulous to hear you’re excited about fossil hunting in Peace River! We live in Australia, and don’t run tours ourselves. There’s a company called Fossil Expeditions who run fabulous tours of Peace River – their website is http://www.fossilexpeditions.com/ though it seems to be down right now, so I’m not sure if it’s a temporary glitch or might come back up soon.

      There are also fossil hunting tours run by Fred Mazza, info at http://fossilhuntingtours.com/

      Hope that helps! Have a wonderful weekend :)

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