Tennessee is a good state for rockhounding. Eastern Tennessee (like western North Carolina) is home to ancient mountains and associated mineral and gemstone deposits. Much of western Tennessee was a historic sea bottom and, as a result, marine fossils are common. Limestone is widespread throughout Tennessee and the state has numerous caves and caverns. In addition, Tennessee has three meteor craters (the Flynn Creek Structure, the Howell Structure, and the Wells Creek Basin).
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.
State Rock: Calcium
Tennessee designated calcium carbonate, commonly known as limestone, as its official state rock in 1979. Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate. Limestone is very common in Tennessee (which also means that Tennessee has numerous caverns and caves). Note: Between 1969 and 2009, Tennessee had designated agate as its official state stone. In 2009, however, Tennessee designated agate as its official state mineral.
State Gem: Pearl (1979)
Tennessee designated the pearl (taken from mussels in the fresh water rivers of the state) as its official state gem in 1979. Freshwater river pearls are created by mussels and occur in a variety of colors and shapes. Prior to World War I, freshwater pearls occurred in a variety of Tennessee streams.
State Mineral: Agate (2009)
Tennessee originally designated agate as its official state rock in 1969. In 2009, however, Tennessee designated agate as its official state mineral. Agate, a semiprecious gemstone, is a cryptocrystalline variety of the mineral quartz. Agate is common in Tennessee and occurs in a variety of colors.
State Fossil: Pterotrigonia thoracica (1998)
Tennessee designated Pterotrigonia (Scabrotrigonia) thoracica of the Coon Creek Formation as it official state fossil in 1998. Pterotrigonia (Scabrotrigonia) thoracica (nick named ‘Ptero’) was a Cretaceous bivalve found in the Coon Creek Formation of West Tennessee. Bivalves are the class of mollusks that includes clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops. Ptero was a wedge-shaped, shallow burrowing suspension feeder that inhabited the marine clay sand ocean floor seventy million years ago when a shallow sea covered west Tennessee. Ptero shells of are preserved unaltered in great abundance. The associated ocean floor inhabitants were diverse and included other bivalves, snails, squid like animals, worms, sponges, corals, crustaceans, sharks, fish, turtles, and marine reptiles. Ptero now is extinct. Only the genus Neotrigonia, with five species, has survived to the present, and is found only in the Pacific Ocean, most commonly near New Zealand. Coon Creek is a seventy-three million-year-old fossil site located about ninety miles east of Memphis in McNairy County, Tennessee.
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!
Mid- Tennessee Gem & Mineral Society
Active rockhound club with useful website.
Useful website focusing on Nashville Basin fossils.
- 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
Frank H. McClung Museum
University of Tennessee – Knoxville, Tennessee
Museum exhibits include the geology and fossil history of Tennessee.
Gray Fossil Site Museum
East Tennessee State University – Gray, Tennessee
The museum – called the ETSU and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center at the Gray Fossil Site – exhibits fossils pertaining to the Gray Fossil Site. The Gray Fossil Site is Miocene (7 – 4 million-year-old) lakebed that formed a sinkhole from a collapsed cave creating a watering hole that attracted animals. The sinkhole trapped animals and the fossilized remains were discovered in 2000 when Tennessee Department of Transportation workers were widening State Route 75. Thousands of fossil specimens have been recovered. Museum exhibits include fossils of a red panda, a short-faced bear, saber-tooth cat, ground sloth, rhino, and badger. The site even contains a strange, shovel-tusked elephant whose intruding lower jaw held flat, bladelike lower tusks used for stripping the bark of trees and tearing up vegetation.
MTSU Mineral, Gem, & Fossil Museum
Middle Tennessee State University – Murfreesboro, Tennessee
The museum has two main exhibit rooms and a smaller black light room that displays fluorescent minerals. Samples on display come from every state in the U.S. as well as from over fifty other countries.
Pink Palace Museum & Planetarium
Museum exhibits include regional rocks, minerals, and fossils.
Places to Visit - Interesting Sites To See
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in America. Cades Cove, in the western portion of the Park, has some Paleozoic fossils.
Burra Burra Mine Historic District
The Historic District, in southeastern Tennessee, includes a museum and the legacy Burra Burra copper mine site.
Ruby Falls Cave
The Ruby Falls Cave is located deep in the heart of Lookout Mountain. It is a limestone cave (sometimes called a Solution Cave). Ruby Falls is a 145-foot underground waterfall.
Southeast of McMinnville, Tennessee
Cumberland Caverns is one of the longest caves (over 27 miles) in Tennessee. Historically, Cumberland Caverns functioned as a small saltpeter mine (used to make gunpowder).
Chucalissa Archaeological Site
T.O. Fuller State Park – Memphis, Tennessee
Chucalissa Indian Village is a Mississippian culture archaeological site dating back over five hundred years. Tennessee, of course, is famous for historic (and prehistoric) arrowheads (as well as Clovis points).
Rockhounding Sites for Children & Families
Coon Creek Science Center - Adamsville, Tennessee
The Coon Creek formation in western Tennessee (and northeast Mississippi) is a Late Cretaceous (about 73 million years old) sedimentary sandy marl deposit. Local fossils include marine shells, snails, and shark teeth.
Burra Burra Mine Historic District – Ducktown, Tennessee
Commercial (fee access) business. Visitors may collect specimens (chalcopyrite, pyrite, garnet, etc.) from a collecting area of stockpiled ore.