By Laura & Hal Mahan
As we write this, a winter storm is approaching from the south, and we are ready to hunker down at home in front of the fire. Thoughts of warm sand, a sunny beach and a good book, however, may not be far from our minds.
A Beachcomber’s Guide to Fossils by Asheville residents Bob and Pam Gale and their son Ashby, who resides in Charleston, SC, will open your eyes to fossil treasures that can be found while strolling the sands along the Atlantic Coast from New Jersey to Florida, and the Gulf Coast from Florida to east Texas. A Beachcomber’s Guide to Fossils was years in the making.
Meticulously compiled and thoroughly researched, the book is a fascinating window into the past.
Who hasn’t walked along the beach and picked up some unknown object and wondered, as the authors say, “What is it and how does it fit into the rest of the world?” This is something that a naturalist does daily, and it is not an activity that requires previous training. A sharp eye and deep curiosity are the only prerequisites. This book teaches its readers not only what treasures to look for but how to look for them.
How are fossils deposited on a beach? Are you more likely to find shark teeth at the low-tide and surf line or the high-tide line? Examine it closely. Is it porous looking or striated? What kinds of shapes do you see? Pretty soon your eyes will become attuned to seeing fossils hiding in the sand.
Perhaps people are most familiar with fossil shark teeth, especially the largest ones that belonged to megalodon sharks. Shark teeth are, arguably, the most common of the fossils found on beaches, and the book begins its identification pages with a large section devoted to identifying more than 50 different species of shark teeth.
The remainder of the identification pages covers mammals, birds, reptiles and fish, plus a section of miscellaneous fossils including Native American artifacts. Nearly every page has a “Did You Know?” paragraph at the bottom with fascinating natural history tidbits. Clear, color photographs and details on the size of each specimen will make it easier to identify your find, even if you are just leafing through the book page by page. Get your imagination going thinking about giant armadillos, giant sloths, giant tortoises, tapirs and alligators, as well as stingray spines, fish skulls, whale vertebrae and toe bones of mammoths and mastodons.
We remember well when Bob Gale came into our store many years ago and showed us the concept of this wonderful book in the form of a meticulously organized notebook. We were sure then that there was no nature field guide like it in print, and that beachcombers of all ages would be excited to have this resource. Congratulations, Bob, Pam and Ashby Gale!
Interested in guided explorations for fossils? Ashby Gale operates Charleston Fossil Adventures in Charleston, SC. Check it out at CHSFossilAdventures.com.
Laura and Hal Mahan are owners of The Compleat Naturalist, located at 2 Brook Street in the Historic Biltmore Village. To learn more, visit CompleatNaturalist.com or call 828.274.5430.