A beloved friend introduced me to the free fossil-hunting site just off of Highway 45, about a mile north of Hwy 30, between Tupelo, MS (to the south) and Booneville, MS (to the north). This W.M. Browning Cretaceous fossil park has been traditionally called the “Frankstown Fossil site,” although the physical address is in Baldwyn, MS. It is possible to dig into the silt of the stream of Twenty-Mile creek and upon sifting, find fossil shark teeth (see above) and other cool ancient material. The lovely location was discovered years ago during road excavation. A very informative geologic bulletin was put together to describe the history and possible fossils located at the site. This is truly one of the delights of a science nerd like me: looking for fossils at the Baldwyn/Frankstown, MS fossil site!
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Let’s go fossil digging at the Baldwyn/Frankstown site!
Things I learned while researching literature regarding the Baldwyn/Frankstown fossil site:
The fossil site between Tupelo and Booneville, Mississippi off MS Hwy 45 was discovered after excavation of the roadbed for the highway in the early 1990’s. Booneville High School jumped on the opportunity and investigated the site, celebrating its richness in fossil artifacts. Teachers, administrators, students and officials from the State of Mississippi Geological Department descended on the location, collecting specimens and documenting the lode of ancient evidence of life in north Mississippi.
People of all ages and occupations are scientists and explorers. Manning (1999) told of a Reverend Cornelius from Yale, who in 1819, at age 25, had performed the best survey of geology of Mississippi to that date. He was a young man at the time, just as many who participated in the collecting, writing and drawing of illustrations of the Frankstown site. Earl Manning and David Dockery (1992) wrote a geologic publication, specifically for identifying the remains found at the site and the Cretaceous history of the area. The publication was timely since it was released only one year after much of the public and national celebrations regarding the Frankstown fossil site had taken place in Booneville, MS. In Dockery’s circular from 1997, (which also features the Frankstown site) the artist-illustrator was a grade school student from Jackson, MS. Her name is Katie Lightsey. People of all ages and occupations are scientists and explorers. The Frankstown site gives many the opportunity.
In Manning and Dockery’s publication (1992) the most intriguing fossil (to me) is a shark tooth found abundantly at the Frankstown site of Scapanorynchus, a goblin shark, which is also extant (living) today. The tooth usually found is a long skinny tooth with a deep bifurcated (split v-shaped) tooth root. It represents a lower tooth of the fossilized goblin shark remnant. The goblin shark has a long “pointy” nose and the strange ability to extrude its jaws to grasp and pull its prey into its mouth. The smaller and broader shark teeth are keyed in Manning and Dockery’s publication as Squalicorax shark. My understanding is that one inch of tooth crown measured in length roughly predicts about 9-10 feet of shark length.
Slender, fluted teeth I have found at the site may be Ischyrhiza, sawtooth denticles or Xiphactinus teeth (a large carnivorous fish). The Xiphactinus fish could grow big enough to swallow a man. It makes the Jonah story in the Bible understandable. This leads me to one of my next serendipities.
In the Cretaceous history of Mississippi, not only was the entire state covered in ocean, but the eastern and western United States were functionally divided by an ocean that continued northward though Canada. The fossils of Frankstown are attributed to the Cretaceous period, perhaps about 75 MYA.
In more recent times, during the Eocene period, basically the state of Mississippi was covered in shallow ocean by a large bay called the Mississippi embayment. This time period is linked to the life of the archaeocetan (“ancient whale”) basilosaur (Zeuglodon), which happens to be the state dinosaur of Mississippi. Carcharocles megalodon is another sea monster which lived during the same time period, about 35 MYA, in the Eocene. The reason I bring these two periods to discussion, side-by-side is that some of the writings regarding the Frankstown site and the entire state of Mississippi repeatedly discuss the geology of one of these periods of time being mistaken for the other. I imagine petri dishes flying through the lab as angry Scientists debate(d) the facts!
Today, at W.M. Browning Cretaceous fossil park, I learned that one can feel the gravel with one’s feet to determine a great place to sift for fossils. Located a beautiful 1+ inch upper fossil tooth from Scapanorhynchus raphiodon texanus (Goblin Shark)!
Dockery, D.T. (1997). Windows into Mississippi’s geologic past. Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, Office of Geology, Circular 6, https://www.mdeq.ms.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Circular-6.pdf (accessed on August 17, 2019).
Manning, E.M. & Dockery, D.T. (1992). A guide to the Frankstown vertebrate fossil locality (Upper Cretaceous), Prentiss County, Mississippi. Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, Office of Geology, Circular 4, https://www.mdeq.ms.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Circular-4.pdf (accessed on August 17, 2019).
Manning, E.M. (1999), Annotated bibliography of the geology of Mississippi to 1850. The Department of Environmental Quality, Mississippi Geology, Volume 20, Number 4, December 1999, https://www.mdeq.ms.gov/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Vol_20_4.pdf (accessed on August 17, 2019).