Hunting Mammoths in Florida
By: Mike Jerrard
If you have ever wanted to actually hold a piece of a mammoth, there is no better place to do so than the Peace River in central Florida. Located in Bone valley, it is aptly named as there have been countless fossilized remains from a multitude of prehistoric animals. Best of all is the ease of which you can become an amateur paleontologist. With just a shovel, a sifting tray, and a mere $5 fossil collecting permit from the state of Florida, you can be on your way to creating your very own museum at home.
There are many river access points as well as kayak companies located along the river if you would prefer a guided tour. There are dangers associated with the river which include large alligators, poisonous snakes, fire ants, and submerged fallen logs to name a few. It is definitely a river to be respected but with some planning and safety precautions, you can come away with an incredible experience.
I have met some very interesting characters in my many trips to the Peace some of which camped there for months on end making somewhat of a living collecting and selling their finds. Their finds were sometimes quite impressive with such discoveries as large ground sloth claws, sabre toothed cat teeth, mammoth tusks, and jaguar jaws. Florida was even more wild and untamed than it is today.
There have also been countless human artifacts found in the river and surrounding area. Beautifully hand carved spear points and pottery just some of the treasures unearthed. It is asked that should you come across any human artifacts that you leave them where you find them. Your fossil collecting permit does not allow for the collection of human associated relics. You are welcome to keep your animal and plant fossils although it is requested that you report any unusual finds to The Program of Vertebrate Paleontology. The Program has 60 days to request that the finder donate his or her findings after which time they then become the property of the finder. Bear in mind the wealth that important finds can bring to science far outweigh any monetary value they could fetch.
Over the years of my explorations along the Peace River I have been fortunate enough to find large megalodon shark teeth, glyptodon shell fragments, mastodon ivory, prehistoric whale bones, spear points, and much much more. My greatest find however were the remains of a large mammoth along with its baby.
With annual floods and a constantly changing river, each year brings new discoveries and although collecting over the years has depleted much of the larger fossils, they are still out there to be discovered. Late winter is the best time to search as that is when the river is at its lowest making wading and hiking along the river much easier. It is also much easier to spot the gators and snakes at this time. My advice is to search in areas far from the main entry points as those areas are heavily visited by people as well as looking for gravel areas in the river as you won’t find much in the sandy areas.
Fossil hunting is definitely an art, although anyone can come away with million year old shark teeth on their first outing. As you become more involved you begin to get a sixth sense of what areas will produce great finds. Note that your fossil collecting permit does not allow collecting in state parks nor does it allow trespassing on private property.
I cannot recommend Mark Renz’s book, ” Fossiling in Florida” enough. It contains a wealth of information which will have you eager to literally get your feet wet and start digging. It is his amazing findings over the years which inspired me to move to Florida for five years and follow in his footsteps. You can purchase a copy along with gain more insight into fossil hunting in the Peace River on his website: www.fossilexpeditions.com.
Two other books that are a must are:
Florida’s Fossils- Guide to Location, Identification, and Enjoyment, by Robin C. Brown. This book has a great fossil identification guide along with valuable maps.
The Fossil Vertebrates of Florida, by Richard Hulbert Jr. A much more complex and detailed book, this has a wealth of information for the more advanced collector.
You can purchase your Florida Fossil Permit at : www.flmnh.ufl.edu