Virginia Fossils Gateway

The state of Virginia boasts a spectacular array of fossils—from 540 million year old burrows (Skolithos) to one million year old Mastodon teeth. Our state fossil, Chesapecten jeffersonius, is a large extinct species of scallop that dates to approximately 4.5 million years ago. It was the first fossil ever described in North America and is named after Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, and an amateur paleontologist.

Paleozoic fossils: Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, and Devonian sedimentary rocks crop out in the Valley and Ridge and Appalachian Plateau provinces and preserve abundant marine fossils, indicating the presence of extensive, shallow seas. By the Carboniferous (i.e., 350 million years ago), the western part of the state was covered in lush, dense forests of “scale trees” (lycophytes), horsetails, and ferns. The accumulation of organic material in these large coastal swamps eventually produced Virginia’s coal seams.

Mesozoic fossils: In the Piedmont province, fossils of dinosaur footprints, freshwater fish, and insects are found in rift basin deposits of the Triassic. In the eastern part of the state, where the sea had not yet retreated, fossil oysters and belemnites have been recovered from a few Cretaceous outcrops.

Cenozoic fossils: Dramatic changes in sea level occurred throughout the Cenozoic. The rise and fall of sea level is recorded in the richly fossiliferous rocks of Virginia’s Coastal Plain. Amazing numbers of fossil clams, snails, and sand dollars can be found in these marine rocks, along with fossilized whale bones and shark teeth. Mastodon and mammoth fossils, while not common, can be found in Quaternary sediments that were deposited along rivers and lakes.

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2011 Department of Geology