Walt's Look Around: Fossil Hunt - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Walt's Look Around: Fossil Hunt

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UNION COUNTY, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

There is a rich fossil deposit near New Albany in Union County and although there are a lot of fossils there, anything pertaining to dinosaurs is practically unheard of in Mississippi.

Here is where we are hunting, a creek bed much like many others in north Mississippi, on a gravel bar just beneath a little water fall. This is where paleontologist George Phillips with the Natural Science Museum found the rare dinosaur tooth.

"But there it lay on the gravel bar probably right about there," said Phillips. "Partially buried."

George has brought along a small entourage of geologists and paleontologist with him today to try to ascertain where the tooth may have come from.

The rock making up the waterfall is limestone. Charles Swan from Ole Miss tells me this is an ancient reef that would have been built up under a shallow sea, but a shallow sea is nowhere a land animal like a dinosaur would live.

So, how did the tooth get here? James Starnes with the Mississippi Office of Geology sheds some light.

They didn’t live in the water, but on the land near it.

"If you can imagine that rivers get swollen as they do today and when the rivers get swollen what happens is large amounts of carcasses can get drowned," said Starnes. "Dead carcasses on riverbanks and things like that can enter into the streams and they just get swept out to sea."

And when the seas dried up the solid things like dinosaur teeth, the remaining got caught up in sediment deposits and rain eventually washed them into creeks like this one, and being heavier, they tended to settle into places like gravel deposits.

Our other two hunters were Tyler Berry, who works with James, and John Cartier, who is a strong amateur paleontologist and knows his stuff. He spit out some names of tiny things longer than I am tall, but toward the beginning of the hunt they found what they came to find, the layer of earth old enough to be where the tooth could have come from.

"Dinosaurs, no dinosaurs," said Starnes. "This is the unit that has the last of the dinosaurs in it, and this is the unit that formed right after the dinosaurs died out."

A friend of mine snarked on Facebook when I posted a picture of the fossil hunt, asking me if I found anything older than myself. I answered back, “No. You weren’t along.”

But we really did find lots of stuff older than the hills. Literally. Way older than you think of as being in Mississippi.

And you can find out more about Mississippi’s ancient past at the Museum of Natural Science. 

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