Journey Through Time: Florida’s Rock Shops and Their Fascinating Fossils

In Florida, fossils of 20-foot sloths, armadillo relatives as big as Volkswagen Beetles, and Megalodon sharks the size of semi trucks lie buried in the state’s sand. Fossil guides help visitors discover this lost world, a jumble of periods spanning millions of years.

Fossil Shops

The fossils in this collection offer a fascinating window into the past. They show us what our world looked like millions of years ago and help scientists understand how it changed.

Rock and mineral collectors (rockhounds) scour beaches for shells and other fossils. They also visit mineral and rock shops in Florida to expand their collections and learn about the area’s unique geological history. Florida is a prime spot for this hobby, and it is many coastal areas, and inland limestone formations are treasure troves for rockhounds.

Most fossils are flat, but as sediment piled on top of an organism, it squished it and helped to preserve its features. This three-dimensional fossil of a nodosaur from the Suncor Millennium Mine in Alberta, Canada, shows what these animals looked like. The specimen is rare because it is so well preserved that its skin and scales are easy to see.

Paleolithic Collectors

Paleontologists have been collecting fossils since the earliest times. The early relics had no obvious practical value but were noticed, picked up, and regarded with some interest. Their strange shapes, colors, and forms influenced ancient beliefs, and their presence as ornaments and even in burials suggests that these fossils were viewed as objects of a religious or cultural nature.

Fossils such as sea urchins were the most prized, from their earliest days as decorations on flint axes to today’s fossils used by paleobiologists to study Earth’s history. If authenticated, the open rings on some urchins also indicate that early people began to develop various tools with specific functions, moving from a stage of specialization toward more complex technologies. It is a pattern well documented in historical archaeology as it has occurred throughout human culture. It was the pattern that led to Beowulf and hieroglyphs, for example.

Fossil Myths

The fossil sea urchins collected by Paleolithic people fascinated different cultures for thousands of years. But how did these fossils get linked to myths? Paleontologist takes an interesting approach, sifting through historical writings and living oral lore to find evidence of connections. They call this a “pale mythology.”

Research shows that a pentamerous flint ball engraved with a five-pointed star caught society’s imagination; the evolution of abstract thought, aesthetics, and mythology was reflected in the stone shapes of these fossils.

Collecting vertebrate fossils on state-owned lands is illegal, but many collectors also find treasure on private property. 

Fossil Art

While many fossil collectors think of the Ice Age when they hear the term “fossil,” Florida’s Ice Age vastly differs from most envision. Fossil diggers have uncovered a wealth of critters that aren’t found in other parts of the country, from the Ice Age ancestor of today’s woolly mammoth to the teeth and bones of the saber-toothed tiger.

This large limestone fossil triptych (two panels) adorns the wall of a covered outdoor fireplace. The murals are framed in a hand-made Wenge wood frame, backed with wood, and secured to the wall by a two-part French cleat. They feature fossils of both large and small sizes, dating back to the Early Eocene, 50 million years ago.