Fossil hunting at Baldwyn/Frankstown, MS

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!

Goblin shark video


 

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.

Mosasaurs (marine reptiles), hadrosaurs (duck-billed dinosaurs) and turtles are also mentioned in the deposited fossil fauna of the Frankstown fossil site.

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!


 

8-24-2019

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)!

Upper goblin tooth scapanorhynchus text size comparison
Photo courtesy of Brent Lavers

 

Bibliography:

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).

68 Comments

  1. I find it interesting that a state such as MS has places that explore the possibility of ancient life and that the state was once underwater. It is cool to be able to go find and keep a piece of history.

    Like

  2. I have lived in Mississippi my whole life and never knew that the state was once completely under water! It makes me curious about what could be found in all the other bodies of water around the state of Mississippi as well.

    Like

  3. It blows my mind to think that where we lived today was once covered entirely in water at one point in time! Also, I agree with you that it makes it easier to comprehend the story of Jonah in the Bible when you hear that there were fish, like the Xiphactinus, big enough to swallow a man.

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  4. I learned from this post that Biology is an amazing subject because we the people live on a beautiful planet around so much life. The fossils finding around the Mississippi area is truly amazing to me also.

    Like

  5. I never knew the United States had once been divided by a large portion of ocean water, the goblin shark is still alive to this day, and that such fascinating and historic teeth can be found in my own state!

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  6. From this blog, I learned that 75 million years ago our land was covered in water. This is interesting to me because it proves how much Earth has changed over the years.

    Like

  7. I learned from this blog,
    that a very interesting fossil site was
    discovered between Tupelo and Booneville,Mississippi.
    In the early 1990’s . where teeth and ancient artifacts
    were discovered by sifting through the stream.

    Archaeocetan basilosaur and the Carchocles megalodon both
    lived in the same time period.
    and scientists debated the geology of the time periods

    I find it interesting that Mississippi has a state Dinosaur.

    Like

  8. Before today I had never heard of the Basilosaurus but learned that it lived for about 7.4 million years. The first fossil of the Basilosaurus was found in the gulf coast. They were at first thought to be reptilian but they were found to be more like a marine mammal.

    Like

  9. Reading this I learned that Mississippi was covered entirely in a large shallow ocean. It’s crazy to imagine every place I’ve been to here was once underwater!

    Like

    1. That was super interesting to me too! Crazy to think everywhere I go on a regular basis was at one point completely underwater.

      Like

  10. I find it very interesting that goblin shark teeth have been found at this site in such abundance considering goblin sharks are rarely seen today since they are deep (deep deep deep) sea sharks

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  11. The state of Mississippi was covered in shallow ocean during the Eocene period. It was a large bay called Mississippi Embayment.

    Like

  12. Through this blog, I found out about the Squalicorax lamniform. Believed to be between 9 and 10 feet long and to have lived during the Cretaceous period. I thought it was interesting that it’s teeth had been found in fossils of both a Hydrosaurid Dinosaur and a Pteranadon. Overall this was a very interesting blog.

    Like

  13. I had heard that Mississippi was underwater but I didn’t realize how many fossils had actually been found throughout the state, thinking there had only been one or two.

    Like

  14. Today I learned that there is an area where people can discover interesting fossils. That is something I would like to take part and learn more about as well as visit. I learned that Xiphactinus can swallow a man at least 6 ft and was supposedly Been on earth before humans walked the earth.

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  15. Basilosaur was on of the top predators in its environment killing other animals such as other sharks and whales like the dorudon and the megalodon was a huge shark that reach 18 meters (59ft) and hadrosaurs were herbivores

    Like

  16. The one thing I learned from this post is the Mosasaurs can breathe air, like humans can too. I also learned that they also can lay eggs, but unlike sea turtles they stay with their eggs until hatch. That’s an awesome information that I did not know about

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  17. Hadrosaurids are dinosaurs with a duck bill like mouth, and they’re young walk on two feet while the adults walk on four feet.

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  18. I found that the Archaeoceti is similar to a modern day fish eater, but it’s characteristics and body shape is more similar to a hyena. Also that it was found in many different regions of the world during its time.

    Like

  19. I learned that a basilosaur is not the same as a monosaur because a basilosaur is an aquatic mammal and a monosaur is a marine reptile.

    Like

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