Delaware mineralogical society

A Delaware 501(c)(3) non-profit earth-science educational organization


Purse State Park, Maryland

Wading for Marine Fossils

Purse State Park Website 
Chesapeake Bay, Maryland Tide Tables
Maryland's Purse State Park is a great place to hunt for fossils. About 60 million years ago, a meteor impact created what is known today as the Aquia Formation. During the Paleocene Era, shallow water covered that was home to several species of sharks, snails and rays covered this area. Today, fossil hunters comb the beach at low tide to search for fossilized shark's teeth, shells and bones.

Getting to Purse State Park

Purse State Park is in Charles County, which is in south central Maryland. The park is at Wades Bay on the Potomac River. Driving directions and contact information are available on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website. You should check tide tables before you plan your trip, because at high tide there are not many beach areas left uncovered by water. At Purse State Park, you can collect fossils on public property, but if you venture outside the park you will need permission to collect on private property. In Maryland, private begins at the high tide line, so you should only collect fossils at low tide to make sure that you are not trespassing.

Basics of Fossil Hunting

If you just plan to walk along the beach and pick up shark's teeth and small shells, you will need very little equipment. Carry a small plastic pail or other lightweight container for collecting specimens. Small paintbrushes can be useful for brushing off sand particles as you collect, but don't brush too hard or you might break some of the more fragile fossils such as shells. If you want to dig into the beach, take a garden trowel or small shovel. Pack some plastic bags and newspaper or bubble wrap to protect your specimens on the trip home. For your personal comfort, wear a hat and sturdy sandals or shoes that you don't mind getting wet. Don't forget drinking water, sunscreen and bug spray. A bottle of hand sanitizer, some small bandages and antiseptic are also a good idea to carry along.

Identifying Your

You're likely to find a lot of shark's teeth at Purse State Park, but identifying which species they come from can be difficult. Sand tiger sharks, mackeral-type sharks and pygmy white sharks are three of the species whose teeth that you may find. You may also find teeth from crocodiles as well as bits of bony plates called scutes. Other fossils include turtle shell fragments and gastropod shells such as Turritella, which is identifiable by its corkscrew shape. Get a magnifying glass so that you can see some of the small details on the fossils, which will help you with identification.

Trip Report, March 11, 2017:

From trip organizer Dave Lines of the Southern Maryland Rock and Mineral Club:
Here are some pix from the fossil collecting trip to Purse State Park in Charles Co. , MD this past Saturday March 11th.

It was a joint trip with 4 people (Bill, Rich, Lorna and Dave) from the Southern Maryland Rock and Mineral Club and 5 people (Diana, Bart, Brian, Will and Alex) from the Delaware Mineral Society. Blowout tides exposed a wide section of the beach during our entire visit.

Everyone found something worthwhile --- including sharks teeth to 1 inch long, fossil turritella molds to 4 inches long and various pretty rocks from the abundant pebbles on the rocky/sandy shoreline.

Virtually everyone made it the entire distance (2 miles each way). The 2 young boys (Alex and Will) (with age 6 energy and enthusiasm) had especially great fun finding teeth and turritellas plus everything else from "beaver sticks" to "catfish skeletons" while playing in the water and climbing over fallen trees and chunks of cliff.

Some interesting finds included a few shiny black pieces of botryoidal bog iron (which Lorna plans to wirewrap) and I found a nice piece of petrified wood. I also saw some nice "purple" (aka "antique") sea glass. All in all, despite the cold NW winds and a high temp of about 40 degrees, it was a great trip.

From Diana Silvertri of the Delaware Mineralogical Society:

"Thanks for the adventure yesterday. I think we all had a lot of fun, and it really wasn't that cold."

This report is from Bill Curtin --- his first trip to Purse:

"This is the haul from my first trip to Purse Park. I collected fossil turritellas (with and without matrix) and fossil oyster shells (whole ones), Patuxent River agates , sharks teeth and assorted stones, sea glass and fishing lures. If you look at the picture with the bottle top, the rock leaning against it is mica schist with 2 garnets in it which was found by Dave in the surf --- maybe the rarest find of the day. He also found a beautiful black shark's tooth --- the biggest of the day --- which he gave to one of the Delaware Club member's 6 year old son. He will cherish that for years I am sure. Lorna found some real nice Patuxent River agates. Dave spent most of his day helping the rest of us find things which I thank him for. He did a great job as leader and also helped the Delaware club."

And more by Dave Lines:

"Diana --- Wow – great people pix. As well as good ones of turritellas and the icicles hanging from the tree --- they really show “COLD”. And you are right – it did not seem very cold – we were dressed well for the weather. Too bad some decided not to go due to cold.
The last pic in this series shows the 2 little boys looking intently at the “quarter lying on the beach” to see who had won the coin toss – I had just flipped it to determine which of them got the shark’s tooth in the “circle” drawn on the sand."