Finding Fossils in Northeast Mississippi

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Finding Fossils in Northeast Mississippi

W.M. Browning Cretaceous Fossil Park is located in Prentiss County, right off of Highway 45.

Finding Fossils in Northeast Mississippi

Finding Fossils in Northeast Mississippi

Several trails lead down to the creek from the park's parking lot.

Finding Fossils in Northeast Mississippi

The creek in the park is part of 20-Mile Creek.

Finding Fossils in Northeast Mississippi

You can search for fossils using your hands or with a shovel or sifter.

Finding Fossils in Northeast Mississippi

The rocky forms throughout the creek are concretions, and they contain fossilized shark teeth and shells.

Finding Fossils in Northeast Mississippi

When it rains the concretions erode, leaving new fossils and rocks exposed.

Finding Fossils in Northeast Mississippi

You have to sift through the rocks and sand to find fossils.

Finding Fossils in Northeast Mississippi

The water in some areas of the park is quite deep, so rain boots are the best footwear for those who want to wade in the creek.

Finding Fossils in Northeast Mississippi

At one time, most of Northeast Mississippi was underwater. That's why you can find shells and shark teeth.

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.



1 Comment
  1. The fossils that are whole and easiest to collect at the Fossil Park are in the sand and gravel that washes down stream. The fossil-containing gravel accumulates where the water flow slows down: where the creek widens; on the downstream side of the concretions and logs in the stream.

    The sand piles on the concretions are left by other collectors and are my favorite spots for looking for very small shark teeth and other microfossils. If you don’t have a home-made 1/4-inch sifter, scooping sand and gravel and putting on a rock will let you splash water to wash away the sand. Look for shiny black.

    Besides the white fossil shells, there are dark brown or black fossils of petrified wood, shark teeth, bone fragments from giant ocean and land reptiles: mosasaurs, turtles, crocodiles and hadrosaurs. A good rule of thumb is to always keep anything that is black. A small 20x jeweler’s loupe will show you the grain of the wood, cell-structure of the bone, and even the fine, cutting edges of the shark teeth.

    The fossil gravel is being washed into the Park area from upstream. Scooping, sorting and sifting are your best bets to find teeth. The walls of the creek are from the Coffee Sand Formation. The Coffee Sand itself does not contain very many fossils. Digging into the banks to find fossils is at best a waste of your fossil-hunting time, and at worst it causes erosion of the Fossil Park.

    The concretions were formed of carbonates in the Coffee Sand sediment. Their round shape was formed by the fossilization process not from surface erosion. Since the fossil inclusions are harder oyster shells or fragments, there a few complete fossils to be found in the concretions. There are other exposures of large Cretaceous oyster shells along the back roads of Prentiss County.

    A group of local citizens, including the Browning Family, are working on making improvements to the Fossil Park in preparation for its 25th Anniversary in 2020. The Fossil Park Project Committee hope to develop a parking area, fossil sorting/picnic table/benches, a permanent stairway, interpretive signage and a Fossil park webpage are in the works.

    The Caterpillar Catalyst, Inc. is a non-profit corporation that is sponsoring the Fossil Park Project effort. We are in process of creating a website to be a focus of fossil finds, goings-on and improvements at the Fossil Park. If you wish to support this effort, you may make a contribution at our donation portal at . Watch for developments.

    Doug Fleury
    Chair, Fossil Park Project Committee

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