Kayaking and Fossil Hunting Florida Rivers
It's a lot of fun!

Our beached kayaks. On Monday 02/19/18 my girlfriend and I again went paddling up the Peace River in our kayaks to go fossil hunting. This was my first chance to really use my new (to me) kayak. I bought it a few months ago after injuring my ankle. I haven't been able to use it (or do a lot of other things until now that it is better. It feels really good to be back out there. We had a great day for it. The weather was wonderful. The first place we put in we paddled downstream quite a way looking for gravel banks. The water was just too high and too deep to dig in. So after a strenuous paddle back upstream we loaded up again the kayaks and drove to another spot. This time we struck gold. A short paddle upstream brought us to some gravel banks in shallow water. We beached the kayaks there and got down to digging and screening. In this photo my girlfriend is appraising the gravel bars in the middle of the river an stating that we should dig here.

Some of the photos like this one are a bit blurry and they are all low resolution due to us both shooting with our phones in waterproof cases.

Me out in the middle of the river digging. Here is a photo of me out in the middle of the river digging on a shallow gravel bar. I have the floating screen tied to my waist to prevent the ferocious current from taking it away. Even though the water was only about knee deep, the current was very strong and could easily knock you over into the drink if not careful. I'm shoveling gravel into the screen and washing it to get rid of sand, clay and fines. What remains is a lot of rocks and usually a fossil or two of some kind in each screen full. It's hard labor under the hot sun, but the water is chilly, and there was a nice breeze. Anyway, it's not as had labor as paddling upstream against the current was. Digging was actually a nice break.

Sorting through the material in the screen. Here I am sorting through the material in the screen looking for fossils. Most of what is left in it is just misc. gravel, modern fresh-water mollusk shells, twigs and leaves. You have to look carefully at everything and push around the stuff on the screen to see it clearly and from several angles to be sure to spot the fossils. Almost everything left in the screen is the same shade of dark brown or black. The fossils don't jump out at you from their color like nuggets do in my other hobby of gold panning. You need to look for shapes, patterns and textures to separate fossils from non fossils. Some fossils like shark teeth can be obvious from their shape if they aren't too broken or worn. Other fossils like bone fragments, and turtle shell pieces can do a good job of masquerading as rocks. It's only their texture and shape that can give them away to the experienced eye.

Taking a break. Here I am taking a break from digging to rehydrate and sit on the bank to rest in the shade a while. Nothing like February in Florida. Temps in the 80s for heavy labor. Could be worse. Could be July. Fossil hunting is hard work. First there's the paddling to the site. Then there's all the digging, screening and sorting. Then there is the paddle back to the launch site and loading up. It can make for a grueling day, but super fun. My girlfriend really gets into it. I kept having to remind her to stop and drink occasionally. When you find a good spot and each screen has nice fossils in it, it's hard to stop.

An alligator tooth my girlfriend found. Here I am holding an alligator tooth my girlfriend found while I was taking a break. I got hit with the standard "You snooze you loose" line. Oh well, there's plenty more fossils in the river where that came from. Besides, she gave me everything we collected today anyway. She's already got a huge fossil collection. Mine is growing fast too.

Paddling back to the launch site. Here we are paddling back to the launch site after a day on the river. The wisdom of heading upstream first once again proves itself as the paddle back downstream was easy on us two tired fossil hunters. After we loaded up and cleaned up a little, we headed into town to check out some antique shops then had dinner at a nice Mexican restaurant. It was a great day.

Our sorted finds from the day. Here is a shot of all our finds from that day after cleaning, drying and sorting them. We found a whole lot of bone in this particular site. Some of those pieces of bone are 3 inches long, and more than an inch in diameter. I need to start including a ruler or something for scale in these photos. The biggest pieces of bone are probably broken pieces of dugong ribs. The rest of the bone pieces are not as recognizable. There are probably some misc. bones from other mammals, reptiles and some fish ribs. We'd really need to find more complete pieces to be sure what they came from. We found fewer shark teeth at this location than we did on our last outing, but they tended to be larger and better preserved specimens here. Some hardly even look fossilized. We found two good sized broken Meg teeth and a large tooth we believe is from a Mako Shark. There were also some whole mini meg teeth and a tooth possibly from a snaggletooth shark. We also got some stingray mouth plate, but again it wasn't as plentiful as the last place we went. We also got some turtle shell and the gator tooth. We also found some really nice shell impressions in the limestone rock.

Click the photo for a larger view.

Close up of the biggest shark teeth. Here is a closeup of some of the biggest shark teeth we found. On the left is a nearly complete Meg tooth. In the center is a fragment from a much larger Meg tooth. I'd have liked to have found that one whole. On the right is what we believe to be a Mako tooth.

All in all, it was a great day of fossil hunting.

Click the photo for a larger view.


On Sunday 06/04/17 my girlfriend and I went paddling up the Peace River in kayaks to go fossil hunting. Our original plan was to go on the Alafia River, but it was raining very heavily where we planned to go. So we drove to a place on the Peace River she knew about. We put in at the Gardner Boat Ramp. We paddled upstream past the confluence of Charley Creek and kept going. We went up stream quite a distance. We stopped at various places where the digging looked promising and sampled the gravels. We brought along screens and shovels and aprons with pockets to hold our finds.

Here in this photo we have beached the kayaks at a likely looking spot to do some exploratory digging where a gravel layer seemed to be just under the river silt and sand. We probed the river bed as we went looking for shallow gravel layers. We also stopped at exposed areas of gravel to dig. This particular spot was a bust. The gravel contained mostly sea shells. We quickly learned that the dark black gravels produce the most fossils.

After paddling up river and stopping to dig in several places, we decided beach the kayaks and stop for lunch. It was a lovely spot. A real slice of old Florida with the gnarled oaks, pine and cypress trees, all draped with Spanish Moss. We had a nice picnic lunch on the bank of the river before continuing on upstream.

Eventually we found a really productive spot to dig. It just kept producing shark teeth, stingray mouth plate pieces and bone fragments. We eventually decided to pack it in and head back downstream. This is where the wisdom of going upstream initially proved out. We let the current carry us back downstream. There was very little paddling required. Which was nice because I for one was a little tired from all the paddling and digging.

When we reached the mouth of Charley Creek again, we decided to explore up it a little bit. The water was too shallow for the kayaks, so we waded upstream a few hundred yards and sampled exposed gravels. We found another really productive spot and dug there for a while before calling it a day and heading back to the boat launch.

I didn't take very many photos on this trip. My phone spent most of the trip double plastic bagged and inside my backpack for safe-keeping. Good thing too, since I managed to dump myself into the water a couple of times, and it rained on us a little too.

Here is a photo of the day's haul after drying them out and sorting them. Not bad considering we really didn't do that much digging. We found a lot of misc. pieces of bone. Some were recognizable as vertebra. Some from fish and some possibly from mammals. There were lots of pieces that were probably pieces of ribs. Hard to say what animals they came from. Probably some fish and maybe some small mammals. There was one large piece of bone that might be part of a leg bone from some large mammal. We found a couple of what look like broken alligator teeth. We found a lot of fossilized turtle shell from both hard and soft shell turtles. Some of the pieces might actually be glyptodon shell. Further research is required. We also found a lot of pieces of stingray mouth plate. By far the greatest number of finds were shark teeth. We found 45 whole and partial shark teeth ranging in size from tiny to pretty big.

Here is a close-up of the shark teeth we found. They were very numerous. I suspect we probably lost a lot of tiny ones through the 1/4 inch mesh screen we were using. It is amazing how well they fossilize and hold up over time. Some of them are still wicked sharp. Some of them have lots of tiny serrations still in place. They seem as like they could have been shed yesterday, but it has been a long time since that part of Florida was under the sea. These teeth were fossilized in sea bottom mud that turned into rock. The river eroded them out of the rock and deposited them in gravel beds for us to find. After all that time and getting beat up by erosion, they still look like new. Shark teeth are tough.

It was a great outing on the river. I am looking forward to doing it again. The rainy season is here now though and the rivers are running high. It may be winter before we can do it again.



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