The World's Great Fossil Sites

Ediacara Hills, South Australia

The oldest known fossils of multi-cellular animals have been found in the Ediacara Hills in the Flinders Ranges  north of Adelaide. The fossils include jellyfish, soft corals, worms and other proto-arthropods. At between 600 and 540 million years old, they are significantly older than any other animal fossils. (Scientists think that the ancestors of these animals were tiny worm-like creatures which lived in the spaces between grains of sand.)

Burgess Shale, British Columbia, Canada

The Burgess Shale is located in the Yoho National Park in the Rocky Mountains near Field, British Columbia, Canada. The site is about 530 million years old and contains fossils of a wide variety of invertebrate animals, including sponges, worms, trilobites and other crustaceans. The Burgess Shale has been intensively studied since its discovery in 1909.

Chengjiang, Yunan Province, China

Many invertebrate fossils have been found in sediments, about 525 million years old, at Chenjiang near Kunming in Yunan Province, southern China. These fossils are similar to those found in the Burgess shale in Canada indicating the worldwide distribution of of these types of species. Fossils of early fish-like species, the oldest known vertebrates, have also been found at Chengiang.  

Falls of the Ohio, Indiana, USA

A coral reef, between 395 and 345 million years old stretches from Louisville, Kentucky to Indianapolis, Indiana. 220 acres of this reef is exposed in The Falls of the Ohio National Park. Five distinct layers have been exposed. The uppermost contains fossils of brachiopods, trilobites and corals. The second layer contains an abundance of crinoid stems. The next layer contains brachiopods, sea snails and corals. The next layer contains stromotoporoids (sponge-like creatures) and branching corals. The oldest layer contains an abundance of corals.


Mazon Creek, Illinois, USA

Ironstone (siderite) deposits in the Mazon Creek region of Illinois (not far from Chicago) contain a huge diversity of extremely well preserved fossils from about 300 million years ago. Over 300 species of animals and 400 species of plants have been found. The animals include jellyfish, worms, snails, fish and shrimp. The plants include mosses, sphenophytes (horsetails) and ferns.


The Dorset Coastline, England

Erosion by the North Sea has exposed cliffs along the Dorset coast which contain fossils from about 213 million years ago. Landslides are common in the area and, sometimes, the sea washes away the mud leaving countless fossils exposed on the sand. Fossils have been collected in the area for at least 250 years. Ammonites and belemnites are common. Fish, ichthyosaurs, insects and dinosaurs have also been found.


Solnhoffen, Bavaria, Germany

Between Nuremburg and Munich in Bavaria and deposits of a type of fine-grained limestone which has been quarried since the Stone Age. These contain many delicate fossils of invertebrate animals. plants and protists from about 155 million years ago. Many if these fossils are from soft-bodied organisms which usually do not leave fossils.


Dinosaur National Monument, Utah, USA

Near Jensen in north-eastern Utah, lies Dinosaur Quarry, an ancient sand and gravel deposit, about 155 to 147 million years old. The quarry, discovered in 1909, contained thousands of fossils of eleven kinds of dinosaurs. About 2,000 are now visible in a 200-foot long wall preserved within the Dinosaur National Monument.

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

Dinosaur Provincial Park lies in the Badlands of Alberta, Canada. The land was severely eroded by glacial ice at the end of the last Ice Age about 13,000 tears ago. This exposed 75 million year old fossil-bearing sediments, along the Red Deer River Valley. More than 300 first-quality skeletons of 35 different types of dinosaur have been taken from a 16-mile stretch of the river.

Auca Maheuvo, Patagonia, Argentina

In the Patagonian desert of Argentina, there is a giant dinosaur nesting ground, between 70 and 90 million years old. The area contains thousands of fossilized eggs, many unhatched and containing the embryos of dinosaurs  The dinosaurs were about 15 inches long when they hatched and grew to about 45 feet. The fossil fields of patagonia are relatively unexplored and scientists believe that they may surpass the rich dinosaur fields of the United States and Canada.

Green River, Wyoming, USA

A wealth of fossils lie in the sediments of three great lakes which existed in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado about 50 million years ago. These lake sediments have turned into a rock layer, called the Green River Formation. The richest deposits are in a flat-topped rock outcrop known as Fossil Butte. Fish are the predominant fossils with millions of herring-like knightia and smaller numbers of bowfin and gars, up to 5 foot long. Besides fish, the deposit contains fossils of snails, insects, crocodiles, birds, bats and plants.

The Badlands, South Dakota, USA

Located in south-west South Dakota, the Badlands National Park contains many sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires. The erosion has exposed the world's richest deposit of Oligocene fossils dating from between 23 and 23 million years ago. The fossils include early horses, sheep, rhinoceros and pigs.

Riversleigh, Queensland, Australia

Riversleigh is a massive burial ground of prehistoric creatures including giant pythons (named Monty pythons), carnivorous kangaroos, marsupial lions and flightless birds dating from about 30 million years ago. It lies in the Queensland outback about 250 kilometers north-west of Mount Isa.

Naracoorte Fossil Cave, South Australia

At Naracoorte, near the South Australia - Victoria border, there is a limestone cave which had a hole in its ceiling. From 300,000 years ago, animals fell through the hole and were trapped in the cave. Eventually, about 15,000 years ago, the hole became blocked, sealing the cave and preserving the remains of thousands of animals, including giant kangaroos, marsupial lions, marsupial tapirs, giant snakes and Tasmanian tigers. Over the past 30 years, more than 5,000 specimens have been catalogued. It is estimated that another 125,000 remain.

 Some Other Australian Sites

Western Australia's Stromatolites

There are hundreds of stromatolite locations throughout Western Australia. These range in age from 3,460 million years old fossils to living stromatolites. The sites marked on the map are the oldest known fossil (of any type) which lies between Port Hedland and Marble Bar and the best known living example at Shark Bay (marked in blue).

The Gogo Formation, Western Australia

About 100 kilometers southeast of Fitzroy Crossing lies the remains of a 4 kilometer long barrier reef which is about 370 million old. Within limestone nodules in shale deposits (the remains of ancient bays) known as the Gogo Formation, are exquisitely preserved fossils of fish. 

The Fossil Triangle, Queensland

About 115 million years ago, the triangular area connecting Winton, Hughenden and Cloncurry in central Queens was part of a shallow sea. The area, which is now soft limestone, has yielded some of the most complete dinosaur fossils found in Australia.

Lightning Ridge, New South Wales

About 110 million years ago, the sandstone of what is now Lightning Ridge was the bed of a seaway. Over millions of years, mineral-rich waters have seeped into the rock, transforming it into clay and opal. Opal miners digging through these sediments sometimes find opalised fossils of early mammals, especially ancestors of the modern platypus and echidna.

Dinosaur Cove, Victoria

To the west of Cape Otway on the southern Victorian coast, layers of rock about 106 million years old contain dinosaur fossils. The rocks containing the fossils are very hard and experts in mining and explosives are needed to remove them.

Murgon, Queensland

Sediments at Murgon in south-east Queensland contain fossils of turtles, crocodiles, bats, birds, snakes and marsupials dating from about 55 million years ago. The bird fossils found at Murgon include the oldest known songbirds.

Bluff Downs, Queensland

At Bluff Downs on the banks of Allingham Creek, near Charters Towers, in north Queensland, deposits from about 4 million years ago contain fossils of giant goanna, kangaroos, wombats, giant pythons, koala-like animals and the ancestors of marsupial lions.

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