Feature Story April 2004

Way, Way Back

Fossils in North Carolina
By Rufus Johnson

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When most people in North Carolina think about fossils, they think of far away places such as the great American West or the Gobi Desert in Asia. However, fossils and petrified wood are abundant in North Carolina. Fossils are the remains or traces of an animal or plant from a former time. Petrified wood refers to wood turned into a stone or mineral form.

Where To Find Them

Hundreds of fossils species can be found in North Carolina's coastal plain, the eastern third of the state from Interstate 95 to the coast. These fossils range in age from 10,000 years old (Pleistocene Epoch) to more than 600 million years old (Eocambrian Period).

Almost every major river and creek east of Interstate 95 has exposures where fossils can be found. I have collected them on the Cape Fear, Chowan, Meherrin, Roanoke and Tar rivers.

You also can find fossils in gravel and marl pits throughout eastern North Carolina. Pender County has several marl pits famous for the fossils. These pits contain many types of shark teeth and echinoids (such as sand dollars and sea urchins) from the Eocene period 38 million to 54 million years ago. Sea shells, nautiloids (shell-bearing sea animals), and fish and whale teeth can also be found here.

The most famous fossil site in North Carolina is a huge marl pit near Aurora in Beaufort County, famous for huge shark teeth. Other fossils here include sea shells, sand dollars and sea urchins, coral, fish material and large mammal bone such as whale and seal vertebra. A museum in Aurora showcases the area's fossils.

Edgecombe, Halifax and Northampton counties have sites containing petrified wood, as does Johnston County. In Chatham County there are several exposures from the Triassic Pekin Formation about 210 million years old. This exposure is famous for finely detailed plant fossils such as ferns and horsetails, along with fossil fish scales, amphibians, phytosaurs, (fossil crocodile-like reptiles), petrified wood and even a few dinosaur teeth. During the Civil War, coal was mined here and the activity exposed many fossils.

Oldest Fossils in State

Stanly County has what is probably the oldest fossils in the state. They are from the Eocambrian Period and are more than 600 million years old. Fossils from this site are some of the most ancient large fossils, and they include corals and jellyfish.

About the Author

Rufus Johnson is a fossil hobbyist and member of Halifax EMC. He can be reached at fossilman@vol.com

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