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Paleontology in South Carolina

The location of the state of South Carolina

Paleontology in South Carolina refers to paleontological research occurring within or conducted by people from the U.S. state of South Carolina. Evidence suggests that at least part of South Carolina was covered by a warm, shallow sea and inhabited by trilobites during the Cambrian period. Other than this, little is known about the earliest prehistory of South Carolina because the Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, and Jurassic, are missing from the state's local rock record. The earliest fossils of South Carolina date back to the Cretaceous, when the state was partially covered by seawater. Contemporary fossils include marine invertebrates and the remains of dinosaur carcasses that washed out to sea. On land, a wide variety of trees grew. Sea levels rose and fell throughout the ensuing Cenozoic era. Local marine life included invertebrates, fish, sharks, whales. The first scientifically accurate identification of vertebrate fossils in North America occurred in South Carolina. In 1725, African slaves digging in a swamp uncovered mammoth teeth, which they recognized as originating from an elephant-like animal.


  • Prehistory 1
  • History 2
  • Natural history museums 3
  • Notable clubs and associations 4
  • See also 5
  • Footnotes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


No Precambrian fossils are known from South Carolina. As such, the state's fossil record does not begin until the Paleozoic. During the Cambrian, at least the Batesburg area in the southwestern part of the state was submerged under seawater. This sea was home to trilobites. The rest of the Paleozoic is absent from the state's rock record, so the state has no sediments from the Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, or Permian in which fossils could have been preserved. The Triassic and Jurassic periods of the Mesozoic era are also missing from the state's rock record. During the Cretaceous, however, South Carolina was covered in sea water. Local marine life included oysters and tube-forming worms. Sometimes dinosaur carcasses would be washed out to sea. Fragments of bone and teeth from such remains have been preserved in the eastern part of the state.[1] Late Cretaceous invertebrates included a bryozoan, coelenterats, gastropods, pelecypods, and scaphopods.[2] The Late Cretaceous Peedee beds are known for their belemnites and other mollusks.[3] During the Late Cretaceous, the flora of South Carolina included trees like eucalyptuses, laurel, magnolias, oak, sequoiah, walnut, and willows.[4] Similar fossil trees have been found in Alabama, New Jersey, and Maryland.[2] Late Cretaceous dinosaur fossils have been found at several Donoho Creek Formation sites in northeastern South Carolina.[1]

Cenozoic limestone is common in South Carolina and rich in fossils. The state's early Tertiary limestones are a great example.[5] The Tertiary period was a time of rising and falling local temperatures.[6] During the Eocene, South Carolina was home to the corals Coelohelia wagneriana and Haimesiastraea conforta and the oyster Ostrea arrosis. Before the South Carolinan specimens of those corals had been found they were known only from Alabama. At least 58 kinds of Eocene bryozoans were preserved in the Eutaw Springs area alone.[7] Middle Tertiary phosphate beds in the state have produced marine fossils like shark teeth, fish bones, and ray dental plates.[3] Finally in the later part of the Tertiary period the local climate entered a trend of increasing temperatures. This trend culminated in local temperatures similar to those of modern Florida. Local environments included both sea and land. Local marine life included whales. More terrestrial inhabitants of Tertiary South Carolina included sizable crocodilians.[6] During the Oligocene, South Carolina was home to bony fishes, sharks, and rays.[8] A primitive toothed whale called Xenorophus sloanii was preserved in Charleston County.[9] Miocene life of South Carolina included a great diversity of mollusks, who left behind a wide variety of fossil shells.[9] Pliocene life included mollusks and sea urchins.[10] Both local sea levels and temperatures began to rise and fall during the Quaternary. During cold spells jack pines grew in the state while during the warmer spells the vegetation more closely resembled the state's current flora.[6] Pleistocene fossils are fairly rare, except for the abundant marine mollusk shells at the Stono River and Yonges Island.[10]


In 1725, [11]

Natural history museums

Notable clubs and associations

  • Myrtle Beach Fossil Club[12]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Late Cretaceous Paradise," Weishampel and Young (1996); page 49.
  2. ^ a b "South Carolina," Murray (1974); page 251.
  3. ^ a b "Ancient Seascapes of the Coastal Plain: Muddy, oxygen-rich environments & Silty-sandy environments preserved as gray shale," Picconi (2003); page 99.
  4. ^ "South Carolina," Murray (1974); pages 250-251.
  5. ^ "Ancient Seascapes of the Coastal Plain: Clear, shallow environments preserved as limestone," Picconi (2003); page 99.
  6. ^ a b c "Paleontology and geology," Knight, Springer, Scotchmoor (2005).
  7. ^ "South Carolina," Murray (1974); page 252.
  8. ^ "South Carolina," Murray (1974); page 250.
  9. ^ a b "South Carolina," Murray (1974); page 253.
  10. ^ a b "South Carolina," Murray (1974); page 254.
  11. ^ "Thomas Jefferson's Paleontological Inquiries," Mayor (2005); page 56.
  12. ^ "Appendix C: Major Fossil Clubs," Garcia and Miller (1998); page 198.


  • Garcia; Frank A. Garcia; Donald S. Miller (1998). Discovering Fossils. Stackpole Books. p. 212.  
  • Knight, James, Dale Springer, Judy Scotchmoor. July 1, 2005. "South Carolina, US." The Paleontology Portal. Accessed September 21, 2012.
  • Murray, Marian. 1974. Hunting for Fossils: A Guide to Finding and Collecting Fossils in All 50 States. Collier Books. 348 pp.
  • Picconi, J. E. 2003. The Teacher-Friendly Guide to the Geology of the Southeastern U.S. Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, NY.
  • Weishampel, D.B. & L. Young. 1996. Dinosaurs of the East Coast. The Johns Hopkins University Press.

External links

  • Geologic units of South Carolina
  • Paleoportal: South Carolina
  • Black River Fossils
  • Seashells & Fossils at Folly Beach
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