Wisconsin Fossil Hunting

by Dan Harkins
Fossils can be found all across Wisconsin.

Fossils can be found all across Wisconsin.

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Wisconsin is as good a place as any to go fossil hunting. You're not likely to find dinosaur bones, but you may find a trove of old sea creatures from previous eras. Sea creatures like trilobites, squids, cuttlefish and snails once called Wisconsin home -- when it was under water nearly 500 million years ago.


The best chance you'll have of finding fossils in Wisconsin is to follow in the path of those who've found fossils before you. Get a topographic map of the state, such as one from the Wisconsin Geological Survey. This will help you identify the exact locations of former fossil finds, which can be found at the Fossil Sites link in the Resources section. Bring along a shovel and pick axe to the sites you've chosen, as well as a sifter and a few buckets.


Previous explorers have found fossils of sea creatures all throughout Wisconsin. These include the trilobites, which flourished throughout the Paleozoic and Cambrian eras until finally becoming extinct during the Permian period, more than 200 million years ago. These creatures have been discovered in rocks in or around the cities of Eau Claire, Kingston, New Glarus, Wood Hill and even metropolitan Milwaukee. Consult the Fossil Sites website for exact locations, so you can get closer to finding some of your own.

Other Fossils

Trilobites aren't the only types of marine fossils in Wisconsin. Prehistorical corral life is recorded in stone throughout the state, too, as are the skeletal remains of brachiopods, crinoids, bryozoa, maclurea, fenestella and ptychaspis. Some archeological explorers have even found ancient homes, such as worm burrows, preserved in sediment unearthed from the city of Hillsboro in Trempealeau County. Study the appearance of these ancient creatures so you can spot them when you find them.


Once you've narrowed down the exact location where you'll explore for fossil finds, knowing how to find them becomes of utmost importance. Look closely at rock outcroppings, particularly of sandstone or limestone. Wear knee pads and gloves, and walk on your hands and knees to get a close look at rocks you find in the ground. Pry large rocks from the earth with a shovel. Break others apart with a pick axe. In areas where dirt and stones are mixed together, use a sifter and water to more quickly isolate the rocks.

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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