Kentucky, US



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State Fossil:
State fossil from Kentucky

With so many species of brachiopods found throughout the state, Kentucky decided to designate the entire group as its state fossil. Brachiopods were common in the warm, shallow seas that covered most of North America during the Paleozoic (~ 550-250 million years ago).

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Paleontology and geology

The Precambrian and Early and Middle Paleozoic: Precambrian and Cambrian rocks are only represented by material brought up in drill cores; however, early to middle Paleozoic rocks are well-represented at the surface in Kentucky Ordovician, Silurian, and early Devonian rocks contain abundant fossils, indicating the presence of warm, shallow seas teeming with trilobites, brachiopods, corals, bryozoans, and other invertebrates. By the Late Devonian, the seas over Kentucky had become depleted in oxygen, and black muds rich in organic material began to accumulate on the sea bottom. The Carboniferous was a time of fluctuating sea levels and the formation of huge river delta systems with extensive swamps. With the exception of the far western region and the Nashville Dome, most of Kentucky is covered by these Carboniferous rocks, the source of Kentucky’s vast coal deposits.

The Late Paleozoic and Mesozoic: The retreat of the extensive shallow seas of the Paleozoic left much of Kentucky exposed during the late Paleozoic (Permian) and Mesozoic; however, fossils from a few Permian rocks brought up in drill cores indicate that the shallow sea persisted in the far western part of the state. The Mesozoic is represented only by a small area of Cretaceous rock in the far western Jackson Purchase area. These rocks are mainly nearshore marine gravels and sands, deposited from rivers flowing from the north and east. Few fossils are known from this time.

The Cenozoic: Cenozoic fossils are well-preserved and fairly abundant in Kentucky. The Tertiary is represented by plant fossils, including leaves, wood, and pollen. Though not shown on this map, Quaternary glacial deposits are present in the northern part of the state, and fossils of mastodons, mammoths, giant ground sloths, bison, elk, the short-faced bear, lions, and other mammals are found in mineral springs and salt licks, as well as in caves, sinkholes, ponds, and river gravel deposits in several places around Kentucky.

Links to more on Kentucky paleontology

Collecting and Legalities | Organizations | Education and Exhibits | Research and Collections | Resources

Collecting and Legalities

Where to Collect Fossils (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Falls of the Ohio State Park Collecting Information: A brief guide to legal fossil collection sites in Kentucky and Indiana.

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Parks (showing 3 of 3 listings)

Dinosaur World: Dinosaur World is an outdoor park designed to teach children and families about prehistoric animals. There are Dinosaur World parks in both Florida and Kentucky.

Big Bone Lick State Park, Union, Kentucky: Called "The Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology", the fossilized remains of past inhabitants of Big Bone Lick State Park provide clues about ancient life in Kentucky. This park features a discovery trail and outdoor museum with varied grassland, wetland and savanna environments.

Mammoth Cave National Park, Mammoth Cave: Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the most extensive cave system on Earth.

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Societies and Clubs (showing 2 of 2 listings)

KYANA Geological Society - Louisville, Kentucky: We are a non-profit educational organization, which was founded in 1961, to promote the interests of geology, minerals, fossils, and lapidary arts in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

Kentucky Paleontological Society, Lexington: The Kentucky Paleontological Society has been promoting interest in and knowledge of the science of paleontology since 1993. The Society is a network for the exchange of data between professionals and serious amateurs in the field. Participate in a field trip or attend a monthly Society meeting.

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Museums (showing 2 of 2 listings)

Wilbur G. Burroughs Geologic Museum, Berea: The W. G. Burroughs Geology Museum contains over 2,200 catalogued specimens of minerals, rocks, gemstones, fossils, and artifacts.

William S. Webb Museum of Anthropology, Lexington: Located at the University of Kentucky, this museum curates exhibits of artifacts collected during the numerous surveys and excavations conducted throughout the state. The museum hopes to contribute to the understanding of past and present cultures, especially those of prehistoric Kentucky.

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Colleges and Universities (showing 3 of 5 listings)

Murray State University, Murray: Course offerings include undergraduate and graduate programs in geosciences.

University of Louisville, Louisville: Featuring undergraduate and graduate programs in geology and geosciences.

Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond: Featuring undergraduate programs in earth sciences and graduate degrees in geology.

More Colleges and Universities

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Government Agencies (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Kentucky Geological Survey, Lexington – Henderson: The Survey provides information on Kentucky's geology and mineral and water resources. KGS conducts research, collects data, and serves as Kentucky’s official archive for data on petroleum, coal, minerals, ground water, and topographic and geologic maps.

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Education and Exhibits

Physical Exhibits (showing 2 of 2 listings)

Western Kentucky University Mineral and Fossil Exhibit: The Geology department is home to the university's collection of minerals and fossils.

Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal: Museum of Natural History and Science: A description of the exhibits available at the museum, for example a look at Cincinnati's Ice Age: Clues Frozen in Time. Also includes contacts for natural history collections and other general information.

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Virtual Exhibits (showing 1 of 1 listings)

KPS Fossil Finds: A virtual exhibit of fossils found on Kentucky Paleontological Society field trips.

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Research and Collections

Ongoing Research Projects (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Kentucky Paleontological Society Research: A summary of KPS past and current research projects.

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Researchers (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Dr. Thomas W. Kammer: Specialty: Evolutionary paleoecology of Paleozoic crinoids, plus lithostratigraphy, biostratigraphy, and sequence stratigraphy of marine Mississippian rocks in the east-central United States. Field areas include West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa.

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On-line Journals/Publications (showing 1 of 1 listings)

USGS Professional Paper: The Geology of Kentucky: This on-line publication of the United States Geological Survey discusses the geology of Kentucky as mapped on the USGS map of the state (which is not on-line).

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Field Guides (showing 3 of 4 listings)

Fossils of Kentucky: Everything you need to know about Kentucky fossils.

Cincinnati Fossils: This site lists all fossil taxa described or reported from the type Cincinnatian strata (Upper Ordovician) of Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana, including mollusks, arthropods, echinoderms, brachiopods, and many other groups.

Pseudofossils: This illustrated guide to pseudofossils on the Falls of the Ohio State Park website helps you to tell the difference between a real fossil and a pseudofossil, a rock that only looks like a fossil.

More Field Guides

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