Mississippi is a good state for rockhounding. Although the state is a poor location for gemstones, Mississippi has a rich heritage of fossils as well as petrified wood. Much of the state contains sediments dating back to when ancient seas covered Mississippi. Interestingly, Mississippi also is home to an ancient, extinct volcano. In fact, Mississippi is the only state that has a volcano below its capitol, the Jackson Volcano that has been extinct for about 65 million years.
State Rocks, Gemstones, Minerals, Fossils, & Dinosaurs
Rockhounding Tip: Knowing state rocks, gemstones, minerals, fossils, and dinosaurs often can be very useful information for rockhounders. Ordinarily, states with significant mineral deposits, valuable gemstones, fossils, or unusual or significant rock occurrences will designate an official state mineral, rock/stone, gemstone, fossil, or dinosaur to promote interest in the state’s natural resources, history, tourism, etc. Accordingly, such state symbols often are a valuable clue as to potential worthwhile rockhounding opportunities.
Petrified Wood (1976)
Mississippi designated petrified wood as its official state stone in 1976. Most of the petrified wood from Mississippi comes from trees that grew during the Oligocene Epoch, around 30 million years ago. The Gulf of Mexico's shoreline extended further north at that time, which explains why the wood is found in the more northern parts of the state. In Mississippi, perhaps the best petrified wood location is the Mississippi Petrified Forest near Flora. This site has been known since the mid-19th century, but it was not until 1966 that it was named a Registered National Natural Landmark, and subsequently developed and opened to the public.
State Fossil: Prehistoric Whales (1981)
Mississippi designated Basilosaurus and Zygorhiza, as its official state fossil. The whales lived during the Eocene Epoch, around 50 – 40 million years ago, when the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico extended across what is now Mississippi. Basilosaurus is the larger and better known of the two state fossils. It had a small head and a narrow body 50 - 80 feet long, giving it the look of a "sea serpent." The first specimen of this whale was found in 1832 along the Ouachita River, and since that time specimens have turned up regularly throughout a belt across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama where exposures of Middle and Upper Eocene marine strata, called the Moodys Branch Formation (or Marl) and the Yazoo Clay occur. Zygorhiza was a smaller whale, reaching only 20 feet, and had a more whale-like body form. The first well-preserved specimens of Zygorhiza were found on the Gulf Coastal Plain in the late 1800s, and a nearly complete skeleton was excavated near Tinsley in 1971. These early whales were well adapted for a swimming lifestyle but still retained the complex teeth of their ancestors. Their descendants, the modern whales, either have simple conical teeth (dolphins, orcas, sperm whales) or sieve-like baleen plates (grey whales, right whales and most others). Basilosaurus and Zygorhiza may have used their complex teeth both to crush prey like fish and squid, and to strain smaller food items from the water.
State-specific rockhounding books (including the books listed here as well as other books), regional rockhounding site guides, and other helpful rockhounding resources are identified - by category - in the Books & Gear section of Gator Girl Rocks with a link to the Gator Girl Rocks Amazon Store where you may easily browse selected resources and securely place an order. Your order will benefit Charity Rocks!
Surface Geology Division
Mississippi’s Office of Geology is within the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. It’s Surface Geology Division functions as the state’s geological survey.
- Allan W. Eckert, Earth Treasures Vol. 2 - Southeastern Quadrant (1985; reprint in 2000).
- James Martin Monaco & Jeannette Hathway Monaco, Fee Mining & Mineral Adventures in the Eastern U.S. (2d ed. 2010).
- Kathy J. Rygle & Stephen F. Pedersen, Southeast Treasure Hunter's Gem & Mineral Guide (4th ed. 2008).
Museums of Interest to Rockhounders
Mississippi State University – Department of Geosciences, Starkville, Mississippi
The Dunn-Seiler Geology Museum houses mineral and rock collections, meteorites, and fossil displays including a Cretaceous crocodile skull, and many fossils from Mississippi and the Southeast.
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science
The museum’s ‘Stories in Stone’ exhibit displays local fossils.
Places to Visit - Interesting Sites To See
The Mississippi Petrified Forest is a privately operated commercial park and museum near Flora. The petrified wood is believed to have been formed about 36 million years ago when fir and maple logs washed down an ancient river channel to the current site where they later became petrified. The site was registered as a National Natural Landmark in 1965. There is a small museum with examples of petrified wood from other localities.
South of Columbus, Mississippi
Plymouth Bluff is a well-known Cretaceous fossil bed composed of marine sediments deposited when the area was part of a vast inland sea. The Mississippi University for Women’s Plymouth Bluff Visitor Center has an excellent display of local fossils.
Tupelo Meteorite … err Meteorwrong
On East Main Street, Tupelo Mississippi (the birthplace of Elvis) displays – on a pedestal – the 1,100-pound ‘Tupelo Meteorite.’ The ‘meteorite’ is reported to have ‘fell’ near Tupelo in 1870 where is was ‘discovered’ by Tupelo Mayor H.C. Medford. The specimen has been publicly displayed outside the Leake & Goodlett building since about 1965, but has been ‘borrowed’ or stolen on occasion. In 1980, however, a NASA scientist determined that the specimen is not a meteorite; rather, it is just a sandstone concretion.
Rockhounding Sites for Children & Families
Petrified wood is fairly common in Mississippi and occurs in streams.
Prentiss County, Mississippi
In northeast Mississippi, fossils are fairly abundant. Twenty Mile Creek is a well-known location for fossilized shark teeth. Fossils in the area also include mollusks, brachiopods, and sponges.
Fossil Shark Teeth
The Tombigbee River Valley is full of chalk and sand outcroppings that contain a variety of fossils. In the Golden Triangle area, these deposits are mostly from the Cretaceous Period (about 82 to 70 million years ago). Throughout the area, there are fossilized teeth from sharks, giant fish, and sea going reptiles.
Fossils have been found in the Mississippi River gravel bars.