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Desoto County Pit


Some months ago I had the opportunity to go on one of Mark Renz's Fossil Expeditions. This trip  was to a shell pit. I have collected in quarries in the past, but gave it up for river collecting, which is more rewarding and less likely to involve trespassing. We live in a litigation  happy society, fear of liability makes getting permission to collect in a quarry next to impossible. I have offered to sign waivers, but to no avail. So if you have the chance to legally collect in a quarry, take it!

Quarry collecting is similar to beach collecting in that you walk and scan the ground for fossils, but instead of looking for what washed up, you look for what washed out. In both limestone and phosphate mines the upper layers (the overburden) are removed and placed in a pile (spoil pile), so that the material underneath can be mined. When it rains on the spoil pile, sand and clay washes down the pile exposing rocks and fossils.

All you have to do is have a good eye and the ability to do a lot of stooping. The light colored ground in mines reflects a lot of heat and light, so bring a hat, water, sunscreen, and a pair of shoes you don't mind getting caked with clay. Sunglasses may help when you are giving your eyes a rest, but I find they cut down on the detail I see, so I don't wear them while fossil hunting. I also find it takes my eyes a little while to adjust to the amount of light and begin picking up details.


Here is the pit. You can search the spoil piles, vertically exposed layers, and the inside of the pit.

Close up of shell pile. Shell and coral are visible.

Strombus leidyi

Top left to right Dosinia sp., Turritella perattenuata, Oliva sp.

Bottom left to right Andara sp., Arca sp.

Tortoise thigh spur  Hesperotestudo sp.


Glyptotherium bony armor, a single Glyptodont possessed around 2,000 of these.


Horse tooth Equus sp.


Also found were Alligator teeth and osteoderms, a Sperm Whale tooth, more turtle material (Hesperotestudo, Terrapene, and Pseudemys), and various types of shells in beautiful condition. No doubt I am forgetting other mammal material that was found this day. That is why you should keep a journal, or at least don't wait a year to put together a page on your website. Doh!

During the day, Mark circulated through the groups of people; identifying specimens, verbally building a mental picture of the animal your fragment represents, and offering tips on where and how to look. Mark is an amiable fellow with some interesting life experiences, some of which will be covered in a book he will release one day. On the subject of books; I recommend his. Information on them can be found on his site PaleoPress. If you are new to the hobby of fossil collecting and want to know how to go about it, or if you are visiting Florida and want to collect, but aren't sure where  a good fossiling spot is, then these tours are for you. You will go to proven sites with an experienced collector.

Let me add to the comment "experienced collector". On Mark's trips you get to keep what you find, though if you find something extraordinary, Mark will probably ask you to donate the specimen to the state museum. Outside of his Fossil Expeditions business, Mark has come across a couple of sites rich in fossils. All of the material from those sites has been donated to the state museum. Material which could have been sold for good money, but was donated because Mark felt it was worth more in the Museum where everyone can see it.