By Emma Kent
Photos by Lauren Wood
If you’ve ever wanted to search for fossils (or if you have a budding paleontologist on your hands), look no further than W.M. Browning Crestaceous Fossil Park in Prentiss County.
The park is located just north of Baldwyn on Highway 45 along a stretch of 20-Mile Creek. A stone sign marks the entrance to the park’s gravel parking lot, which overlooks the creek.
Excavations at the sight in 1990 uncovered shark teeth, dinosaur teeth and other fossils from the Cretaceous period. This is because back when dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures roamed the Earth and oceans, much of Northeast Mississippi was under water. The fossils found at the park serve as proof that the area was covered by the sea about 75 million years ago.
A short but steep trek down into the creek is all it takes to get started, and there are several paths that lead to the creek bed. You may want to wear long pants, though, as some of the trails are surrounded by tall grass and other prickly plants.
The creek is mostly shallow but does get deeper in some spots, so wear rain boots to get the most out of the experience. With water resistant shoes, you’ll be able to do more climbing and access more of the banks along the creek.
Once you’re in the creek, it’s pretty easy to start finding fossils, but you’ll have to get your hands dirty. Start by using your hands to sift through the sand, where you’ll find seashells and fossilized oyster shells. If you have them, a shovel and sifter would come in handy in your search.
The large rounded rock-like formations scattered throughout the creek are known as concretions, and they’re the best place to look for shark teeth, which are the most commonly found fossils at the park.
To find shark teeth, climb onto the concretions and carefully sift through the sand, rocks and shells that lie in little piles on top of them. Sometimes you’ll find shark teeth just lying there but sometimes you’ll need to do a little more searching by digging into the sandy top layers of the concretions. Many of the concretions have moss growing in patches on them, and you can even peel the moss off and dig in the sand under the moss. If you don’t find any shark teeth right away, be patient and keep moving along the creek — you’ll come across them eventually.
Through the years, fossils have continually been found in the concretions. As weather erodes the concretions, more fossils are revealed that were previously encased in the rock, so visiting the park after a heavy rain ups your chances of finding more fossils.
The best thing about W.M. Browning is that it’s a public park, so you can take your treasures home and show them off. And even after 23 years of visits from fossil-hunters, there are still plenty to be discovered.