Fossil Hunt

Posted on February 11th, 2011

At one point, Millions of years ago, Western Pennsylvania was a tropical swamp.  Then, millions of years later, below a shallow sea.  How do we know this?  Because we can find fossils that record the life forms present here long, long ago.  The Pittsburgh area is really a great place to hunt for fossils – We have plenty of hillsides and cliffs where layers of sedimentary rock are exposed for easy fossil hunting.  If you have a gravel driveway, chances are that the gravel is limestone, a sedimentary rock that forms under the sea and is often rich with the fossilized shells of brachiopods, which are extinct clam-like critters and crinoids, which are similar to coral.  All you need is a sharp eye and some rocks!  Here are a few of our favorite places to search for fossils, as well as what types of fossils you can expect to find.  If  you have a favorite fossil hunting location, or if you have a picture of some fossils that you have found, click HERE and share it with us on Facebook

Irma Kost Natural Area/Crouse Run Nature Preserve, Allison Park – This area is one of our favorite fossil hunting and hiking locations.  The trail starts just off of Wildwood Road in Hampton Township (Parking is behind the Tuscan Inn restaraunt) links up to the Rachel Carson Trail (Look for the yellow trailblazes mark the trees along the trail) and follows the valley floor all the way to Sample Road.  The terrain varies from flat and wooded to steep and hilly.  Alongside the stream there are several outcroppings of shale – A dark grey sedimentary rock that forms thin, flat layers and slabs – That are rich in fossils of ferns and other plants from the time when Pennsylvania was a warm, swampy land.  In order to reach the fossil beds you will most likely have to cross the stream, perhaps more than one time, so be sure to wear old clothes and boots and pick a dry day to go so that the water isn’t too high to cross.  Even if you don’t find any fossils – Which is unlikely since there are so many there – The landscape and the trail are beautiful and fun to hike!

Swatara State Park, Grantville, PA – This spot is a few hours drive from Pittsburgh but, if you are serious about fossil hunting, it is well worth the trip.  An outcropping of Martinsburg Shale is rich in fossils of extinct sea creatures, such as trilobites, shells, crinoids and much more!  The fossil pit is a little tricky to find but it is absolutely loaded with cool fossils.  Also, the area offers some great, senic hikes, camping, boating, fishing and all sorts of other activities.  This is a great site for a day trip or a cool stop to add some science to a nice. long, relaxing family vacation.  Read more about the park and the fossil pit HERE

Almost Any Gravel Driveway – Those little, grey pebbles in your driveway may just be the remains of an ancient seabed!  If you get down and look closely, you are likely to find the fossilized remains of brachiopod shells and Crinoids.  Crinoid fossils that are broken look like a white circle or disk with a dark-colored star in the center.  Brachiopod fossils may look just like a calm shell that is made of rock or imbedded in rock or they may be found as imprints of the shells.  Just look closely and you may be amazed at what you find. 

Do you have a favorite fossil pit that you would like to share with us?  Or, did you find some sweet fossils on your hunt?  Maybe you found something that you are having trouble identifying.  We would love to see what your last fossil hunting expidition turned up.  Share photos of the fossils that you have found with us and the rest of the Lab Ratz community by posting them to Facebook.  Also, check out this great fossil identification site which includes most types of fossils common to Pennsylvania.  Can you identify anything that you have found?