Hammers, chisels, and rocks galore-Republic WA home to a family friendly fossil dig

In the tiny town of Republic about two and a half hours northwest of Spokane, the locals are proud of the area’s beauty, the delightful downtown with a happening brewery and one other thing you might not expect. Their fossil dig.

Stonerose Interpretive Center and its Eocene fossil site attracts hundreds of people each summer to come and try their hand at cracking rocks. Its the excited squeal that lets you know when they’ve found something good!

“When you come here you get to look for fossils and looking for fossils is fun,” said first grader Pyper Orestead, who was there with her teachers and a few classmates.

New to fossil digging, she quickly learned how to handle the hammer, as her teachers held the rock and chisel.

The site is a hotbed of fossils because of what was there 50,000,000 years ago, a lake.

“At that time, there were alligators above the arctic circle, there were palm trees above the arctic circle and the Earth was extremely warm,” said Stonerose Board Member and fossil hound Michael Sternberg. “The fossils here tell that story.”

He notes that the rocks with layers in them are the most likely candidates to be fossil bearing because that is how fossils works.

“Layers of mud were just laid down and laid down and laid down, and if a leaf or something else fell in, it was preserved,” he said. “The plant fossils we see here are the carbon residue after the leaf has slightly decomposed in the lake sediment.”

When you find a fossil, its a special moment.

“When you sit here and slowly chip and open up a fossil rock, and there’s a leaf there, you are the first one to see it since it fell in the lake 50,000,000 years ago,” he said, “that’s an oh my gosh moment.”

The site at Stonerose is extraordinarily prolific and has contributed to scientific advancement.

“We have over 60 families of insects identified, over 350 species of plants, maybe 8-10 species of fish and then birds and whatnot,” he said.

The best part, you get to keep what you find up, assuming its not scientifically unique or overly rare. If it is a new species, it has become a Stonerose tradition to name the new species after its finder.

For more information on Stonerose click here to go their website.

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