Wilderness Underfoot: Amateur geologist, part 2: Fossil collecting

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11460873025871.jpg’, ”, ‘This fossil trilobite was collected on a rock trip to Ohio – One of the most enjoyable aspects of collecting fossils is meeting other collectors, sharing favorite fossil sites, and trading—a good way to expand your collection. Below is an example of a fossil label card for this specimen.’);
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If you’re interested in collecting fossils, consider yourself lucky to live in Illinois; our state has some of the most spectacular fossils from the Paleozoic Era, long before the era of the dinosaurs

Fossils are evidence of prehistoric life. Most fossils are found in sedimentary rocks, and some of these rocks are made of nothing but fossils. This is true of the limestone and dolomite bedrock of our region, which is composed of the fossilized remains of algae mats that lived in seas more than 400 million years ago.

Scattered throughout that bedrock is a wealth of other fossils, such as clams and bivalves, snails, sea lilies and squids.

These fossils are easy to find, if you know where to look for them. Search any pile of crushed limestone or dolomite from northern Illinois, and you’re likely to find at least one or two fossils from Paleozoic Era sea creatures. Crushed rock, as well as glacial til, is widely used in landscaping and construction. You may have this material near your own house. Some of the world’s greatest fossil collections were built by amateurs who found their first fossils in their back yard.

With the help of a few fossil-collecting guides, you’ll be rattling off scientific names such as Platystrophia or Rafinesquina like an expert. For beginners of all ages, nothing beats the Golden Guide: Fossils (Golden Press).

Labeling your fossils is important if you want your collection to have scientific and financial value. The purpose of the label is to describe the rock formation and location of where your fossil was found. Such information is helpful if the fossil ever needs to be studied. The Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois (ESCONI) can direct you to collectors who can help with fossil identification, names of geological formations (the mapped layers of rock), and general information about fossil collecting. Visit their Web site at www.esconi.org.

Once you’ve built your collection, displaying it is half the fun. Check hobby and craft shops for attractive display cases and shadow boxes. As your collection grows, newer and better specimens will replace your first finds.

Geology and rock collecting tours are conducted by the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), and by natural history museums and rock clubs. To learn more about ISGS tours, visit

or call their office at 217-244-2414.

From the April 26-May 2, 2006, issue

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