Surprisingly, West Virginia is a fantastic state for those interested in hunting minerals due to its large amounts of coal deposits. This also means that it is equally popular with fossil hunters that flock to the popular Silurian, Devonian, and Mississippi formations. West Virginia can be a fun state for both novice and expert seekers due to the abundance and variety available.
Many of the fossils you can find are plant based and can be found in the same area as the coal deposits where minerals are found. The main coal beds are along the state’s main highways in the south, northwester, and northcentral areas. Look around interstates 68, 77, and 79.
If you’re in the Eastern areas of West Virginia you might be better off hunting for fossil seashells. Search in the counties that border the neighboring states of Virginia and Maryland.
West Virginia fossil hunters know all about the more than 4,000 limestone caves that can be found throughout the state. These caves are the ideal location for stream and talus sediments to deposit and the cave itself offers the stabilized temperature and humidity that is needed for preservation. Together these elements combine to make the caves perfect for fossil hunting.
All mineral and fossil hunters want to find that one incredible piece, for many that would be an amazing dinosaur fossil. In West Virginia you might just find the Megalonyx Jeffersonii, the state fossil.
This dinosaur became the state fossil in 2008 though it became extinct in the Pleistocene Age. This Jefferson ground slow inhabited much of what is now West Virginia during the Ice Age. Mostly they spend their time knocking over trees and digging up ground vegetation with its long claws.
Our current day sloths hold nothing to this behemoth that stood at more than eight feet tall and could easily weigh more than 1000 pounds. Since its discovery there has been a lot of confusion about this sloth. Thomas Jefferson actually believed it to be a prehistoric lion and named it Megalonyx which means “great claw”.
The main areas that have found Megalonyx Jeffersonii bones have been in the Monroe County, Pendleton County, and Greenbrier caves. If you want to find you own you should search around those areas.
The name may be a mouthful but the Lithostrotionella is an interesting fossil coral from as far back as 340 million years ago. This time period is called the Mississippian Period and is when the state had an advancing shallow sea. Since much of the state was covered by this sea water there was an abundance of sea life left behind including brachiopods, trilobites and of course the coral.
Lithostrotionella is a tabulate coral that went extinct during the Permian Period of 245 million years ago (the same extinction that wiped out the much of the life on the planet at that time). You will recognize these corals as a siliceous mineral chalcedony, a type of quartz.
To find it look in the Hillsdale Limestone around Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties in the south.
If hunting for coal doesn’t sound very exciting it might be helpful to remember how important coal has been throughout history. West Virginia made it their state stone to do that very thing! As you search just remember that it was discovered during the colonial times, as far back as 1742 with the very first coal mine opening in 1810. Even today you can find it in almost any county in West Virginia and if you’re wanting to round out your collection it can be a nice stone to add due to its important historical context as a unique part of the economy in this state.