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
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.
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.
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.
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