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Fossils that can be found along the Paleocene Cliffs of the Potomac River

Printable Identification Fossil Sheets for Vertebrates and Invertebrates of the Paleocene Potomac River

Mallows Bay Ghost Fleet. This is not a fossil site, but a nearby kayaking/paddling site. This bay contains one of the largest ship ghost fleets.

Nearby Shark Tooth Collecting Location:
Calvert Cliffs, MD

Fossil Shark Gallery

Parts of Sharks that Fossilize

Shark Evolution

Potomac River Shark Fossils

On the Potomac shores, Charles Co., MD
The Potomac shores in VA
~56-59 Million Years Old
Late Paleocene, Selandian
Aquia Formation, Piscataway Member

This is your place for Paleocene fossil shark teeth, including Odotus!

Potomac River Fossils Page Map:
About the Potomac River Fossils Locations and Collecting Equipment Fossil Identification - Sample of Fossils Found Paleocene Potomac River Identification Sheet Additional Photos/Images Recommended Books and Links

view of the paleocene Fossil cliffs along the Potomac River
"View of the Aquia Formation (The gray clay layer with the white shells in it) along the Potomac River. Paleocene Fossil Shark teeth are found here."

Fossil hunting for prehistoric shark teeth along the Potomac River
"Paul and Amy are walking along the cliffs"

Along the potomac, seaweed usually covers the fossil layden shores in late summer
"Toward the end of summer, seaweed and mats of algae bloom in bays along the potomac. These aquatic plants often wash ashor and cover the beach in a stinky muck. It makes it difficult for fossil hunting."

There are usually lots of trees to climb over while fossil hunting
"Watch out for the trees. fossil collecting with all the down trees can make it a little cumbersome."

Fossil Turritella Shells
rocks full of fossil Turritella shells
There is a layer roughly 15-20 ft up that is chalk full of fossil Turritella Gastropod molds. This layer is collapsed along some sections of the Potomac Cliffs, which means huge rocks are laying on the beach that are full of the gastropod molds.

Click here to see more pictures of collapsed cliff sections containing the fossil Gastropod molds

About the Fossils of the Potomac River

Fossils found along the cliffs of the Potomac River just south of D.C. are from the Aquia formation, which is from the Selandian, or late Paleocene.
This time period markes the final ending of the supercontinent Pangaea, as the last vestige split apart into Antarctica and Australia. Also, at the end of the Paleocene, the climate was warming from the cool Paleocene climate into the tropical climate of the Eocene. Another special event marked in the Paleocene is the development of grass. Without the evolution of grass, mankind would have long perished from lack of cutting it.
Again, as in the Eocene and Miocene, this area was just offshore in the young, and much narrower Atlantic Ocean. The fossiliferous deposits contain mainly shells, fish, and ossil shark teeth (including the fiercest shark of the Paleocene, Otodus obliquus), ray plates, and crocodile and turtle material. These deposists are too old to find marine mammals, as mammals did not return to the sea for another 4 - 6 million years, in the Eocene. However, the Eocene Nanjemoy formation occasionally pops up along the cliffs. Sometimes Eocene fossils can be found along the shores from this formation.

To view a sample of the different fossils you can find here, including Otodus Shark Teeth, go to the Potomac Identification page

Access to Fossils Exposures of the Potomac River

  • When looking for fossil along the potomac, please remember that private property starts at the LOW tide line in VA, therefore, all beaches in VA are private property. In MD, private property starts at the HIGH tide line, so you must stay below the high tide line in MD.

  • Access is limited, especially without a boat and VA property laws.

    However, the VMNH takes field trips to places along the potomac. For information about their public field trips, click here.

Recommended Fossil Equipment for the Potomac River

  • Shovel and Sifter with a 1/8" - 1/4" screen.
    Please note, DO NOT DIG IN THE CLIFFS, as this is private property. The shovel and sifter are for screening the gravel banks of the Potomac.
  • Waders (to help protect against mosquitos, biting flies, and cold water)

  • There are lots of fallen trees and vegitation to climb through, be sure to wear proper insect repellent, ticks can be a problem.

Recommended Books for Potomac River Fossils

Fossil Shark Teeth of the World , A Collector's Guide
by Joe Cocke
Copyright 2002
Lamna Books
Torrance, CA

A great book for identifying all those teeth. This book is laid out "as simple as possible." It's ease of use and small size makes it great to carry during collecting trips.
Fossil Sharks of the Chesapeake Bay Region
by Bretton W. Kent
Copyright 1994
Egan Rees & Boyer, Inc
Colombia, MD

A great book for identifying all those teeth. A must for any beginner collector that fossil hunts in the Maryland/Virginia area.
Unfortunately, this book is out of print. For deals on used ones, look here: Fossil Sharks of the Chesapeake Bay Region

The Mallows Bay Ghost Fleet:

  • Mallows Bay Ghost Fleet
    This Not Fossil Related: It's just an interesting place in the area to visit (if you have a canoe or kayak).

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