Limestone Fossil Hunting in Indiana

by Dan Harkins
Road cuts, like the ones made to create this highway in South Bend, Ind., are good places to look for fossils.

Road cuts, like the ones made to create this highway in South Bend, Ind., are good places to look for fossils.

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Archeology isn't a science confined to the experts of geology and biology. In Indiana, several known sites, particularly in the southern end of the state, are ripe for fossil exploration. Some of these sites are limestone rock formations, but others include sandstone, shale and dolomite. Narrow your search to where others have found success, and your next Indiana fossil hunt could include some treasure.

Where to Look

To ensure success the next time you go fossil hunting, familiarize yourself with the geography of Indiana and how it relates to the fossils that already have been found there. Looking blindly for fossils is much less likely to yield results than searching where fossils have been found before. At the Fossils From Indiana website, a detailed map will direct you to some of the more prominent fossil finds in the state, mostly concentrated in limestone or shale formations in the southern part of the state. Know where you're going and what you're looking for before you leave. The Paleoportal website contains a long list of fossil finds in Indiana.

What You Might Find

Not only can you get lucky and find tracks left by prehistoric animals, like those preserved by archeologists at the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center, you might also find the bones of ancient creatures. More than likely, however, if you find a fossil in an Indiana limestone formation, it's going to be a sea creature that called Indiana home when the entire region was under water more than 250 million years ago. You can find crinoids, cephalopods, bryozoa, tadpoles and maybe even bivalve marine life fossils.

Identifying Fossils

Study what these fossils look like with an illustrated online catalog so you can identify them upon discovery. After arriving at your chosen destination, pore over areas where fossils are more likely to appear, such as in cuts made for roads, rock formations in new ditches and dried creek beds. Several fossils finds have been made in Indiana when new construction unearths old limestone or shale that's long been buried. Turn over rocks with a shovel, split larger rocks with a pick axe and separate smaller rocks from dirt with a sifter.

Special Considerations

Wear gloves and even knee pads so you can walk on your hands and knees when exploring certain areas where many rocks litter the ground. This is the case in several geographical regions of Indiana. If you find fossils, check with local authorities such as the Indiana Department of Natural Resources before removing them. If you're on public land, you're required to leave fossils in place and asked to alert a park ranger or supervisor.

About the Author

Dan Harkins has been a full-time journalist since 1997. Prior to working in the alternative press, he served as a staff writer and editor for daily publications such as the "St. Petersburg Times" and "Elyria Chronicle-Telegram." Harkins holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of South Florida.

Photo Credits

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