• "Celebrating the Richness of Paleontology through Fossil Hunting"
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Article written by: Jayson Kowinsky - Fossilguy.com


Fossil hunting video at Sharktooth Hill

Fossil Hunting at Sharktooth Hill in Bakersfield, CA

Fossil Hunting at Sharktooth Hill near Bakersfield, CA

Geology and Paleontology of Sharktooth Hill

Foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains

Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Bakersfield is Sharktooth Hill. First documented by William P. Blake in 1853, Sharktooth Hill is one of the most significant Miocene fossil sites in the world (Dupras, 1985).

Sharktooth Hill is a middle Miocene marine exposure of the Round Mountain Silt unit of the Temblor Formation. Using magnetic stratigraphy data, the age of this unit is estimated to be around 15.2 and 16 million years old (Prothero et al., 2008). At this time sea levels were higher and Central California was under the Temblor Sea.

The Round Mountain Silt member has a two very fossiliferous bone beds almost on top of one another that are less than a foot thick. These bone beds were created when the fossils deposited in the Temblor Sea eroded out of the formation by ocean currents. The loose fossils washed together and were subsequently reburied in the Temblor Sea, creating reworked lag deposits. Since the fossils from these bone beds have been reworked, only isolated bones and teeth are found.

However, above the bone beds, the sediments accumulated in the Temblor Sea at a fast rate and animal remains were not disturbed by ocean currents. So, occasionally associated specimens of marine animals, such as Cetaceans, Sea Lions, Sea Cows, and Sea Turtles can be found. Examples of these associated specimens can be seen at the Beuna Vista Museum of Natural History.

The fauna at Sharktooth Hill is similar to east coast Miocene marine fauna such as the Calvert Formation and the Pungo River Formation. The fauna includes a plethora of sharks and rays, marine mammals, sea turtles, and fish. On rare occasions isolated land mammal material has been found. There are, however, differences between this fauna and typical east coast fauna, such as the abundance of particular genera and different species. For example, the megatooth shark, C. megalodon, is uncommon here, but very common on the East coast. Also, a special shark called the Hooked White (Carcharodon planus) is found here. This shark is a very short lived White shark that only existed in the Pacific. Sharktooth Hill is one of the easiest places on Earth to find these sharks. For information about C. planus and the other extinct White Sharks, go to the Prehistoric White Shark page.

Concretions are found in the formation above the bonebed.  Many of them
have vertebrate bones in the center that served as the nucleous of the concretion.

Large concretions are found in the formation above the bone beds. Many of them have vertebrate bones in the center that served as the nucleus of the concretion. This one has a cetacean vertebra in the center.

A Hooked White shark tooth (Carcharodon planus) barely poking out of the matrix at Sharktooth Hill

A Hooked White shark tooth (Carcharodon planus) barely poking out of the matrix at Sharktooth Hill.

About Ernst Quarries

The actual Sharktooth Hill is a National Natural Landmark. However, the Ernst Family owns a large portion of property near Sharktooth Hill. They generously allow visitors to search for fossils as a pay to dig quarry. The Ernst family also closely works with the major museums in California. In fact, most of the scientifically valuable specimens found in the past 35 years come from the Ernst Quarries (Elam and Wilkerson, 2011). The Ernst family's passion for paleontological research is one of the main reasons for the creation of the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History in Bakersfield. This museum has a large research collection of Sharktooth Hill fossils, including associated specimens, mainly from the Ernst Quarries.

If you would like to fossil hunt at Sharktooth Hill, visit the Ernst Quarries website and make sure you stop by the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History to see the fossils from Earnst Quarries.

The author digging at Ernst Quarries near Sharktooth Hill.

The author digging at Ernst Quarries near Sharktooth Hill.

Fossil Hunting at Sharktooth Hill

Shark Tooth Hill near Bakersfield California has been on my bucket list for a while. Since I live on the East coast, I haven't made time to plan out a trip. This past December, I had some free time and decided to play in Monterey for a few days, checking out the Sea Otters, Aquarium, Big Sur, Carmel, the Redwood forests, and a few other gems. While in Monterey, I decided to drive to Bakersfield for a Sharktooth Hill hunt, I mean it was only a 4 hr drive! What a horrible drive it was!

Leaving Monterey at 3 am I headed off into the fog. Four hours of dense valley fog and one flat tire later I arrived at the entrance gate. Due to rain the day before, we had to wait an additional hour or so for the muddy hill to dry up a bit so we didn't get stuck. Once at the quarry, Rob Ernst gave us a tour of the land and of Slow Curve quarry, the quarry we would be collecting at. We then got our tools and wandered off, searching the land. After about an hour of surface collecting without making much progress, we settled onto part of the hillside and began digging.

Fossil Hunting 101: The more dirt you move the more fossils you find. I began carefully digging along a productive layer, making sure not to damage any fossils. I would then shovel the dirt back to my fossil hunting partner. The system worked, I moved large amounts of earth while she sifted through the dirt for missed fossils.

We decided to leave the quarry around 2 pm so we could get back to Monterey at a reasonable hour. Overall it was a great experience. We found a fair amount of fossils, including lots of Hooked White sharks, some whale teeth, and some whale vertebra. Next time I will definitely spend more time at Ernst Quarries!

A Hooked White shark tooth (Carcharodon planus) found at Sharktooth Hill

A Hooked White shark tooth (Carcharodon planus) found at Sharktooth Hill.

A Hooked White shark tooth fossil freshly exposed from the formation

A Hooked White shark tooth fossil freshly exposed from the formation

References / Works Cited

Elam T and Wilkerson G. (2011) The Round Mountain Bed of Sharktooth Hill, Kern County, California: Recent Research Yields New Answers to Old Questions, in The Incredible Shrinking Pliocene,California State University Desert Studies Consortium, Desert Symposium, Abstracts of Proceedings, ed. Robert Reynolds, April, 2011, pp. 88-90. Article Here

Dupras D. (1985) Sharktooth Hill. California Geology, July 1985, p. 147-154.

Prothero, D.R., Sanchez, F., and Denke, L.I. (2008) Magnetic stratigraphy of the early to middle Miocene Olcese Sand and Round Mountain Silt, Kern County, California in Lucas, et al. eds., Neogene Mammals. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Bulletin 44. p. 357-363.

Recommended Books for California Geology

Roadside Geology of Northern and Central California, 2nd Edition
David Alt, Donald W. Hyndman

This roadside Geology series is a must for anyone that does road trips! This one gives a great, easy to understand, overviews of the Geology on Northern and Central California. This newer edition has full color maps, photos, and illustrations. There are GPS coordinates, locations, and explains all the geologic oddities you may drive by.

Gem Trails of Southern California
Otie Braden, 2017

This is the definitive guide to rock and mineral collecting sites in Southern California. It contains maps, descriptive texts, and both Color and black and white photos of 80 collecting sites. Plus, it's from 2017, so the sites are still there!

Additional images of Sharktooth Hill and Fossils that can be found

Large lower fossil shark tooth from Sharktooth Hill - Carcharodon planus.

Large lower fossil shark tooth from Sharktooth Hill - Carcharodon planus.

Click on a thumbnail for the larger version and description

About the Author

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