Finding Fossils In The Northland

By KBJR News 1

September 27, 2010 Updated Sep 27, 2010 at 1:14 PM CDT

Posted by Melissa Burlaga

Paleontology and the study of fossils aren't only done in some dusty desert far from the Northland.

Ancient evidence of life can be found right here at home.

Dave Anderson tells us about a teacher who finds fossils in his own back yard.

Third grade teacher Tim Johnson has 800 pounds of fossils he likes to show his students.

The Superior native's collection began years ago.

"As a kid, I'd go down to the rail road tracks looking for steelies and I noticed all the shells that were in with the rock in the rail road ties and thought, wow!"

Johnson's fossils come mostly from the Saint Louis River.

They were probably dug out of the bed rock during the last ice age and deposited in the river when the glaciers retreated.

Johnson's friend, Pat Bartell, is always on the lookout for more.

"You never know where you are going to find them. I look under eroded banks, hillsides, beaches, you name it."

Saint Louis River fossils range from sea shells to fish fins.

Finding them isn't as tough as a needle in a haystack but people like Bartell can still get sidetracked by false leads.

"You can get faked out because concrete has got me a couple of times where I picked it up and looked at it and I saw aggregate."

Mr. Johnson's students enjoy the tactile activity of looking the rocks over for specimens.

"For them to see the actual fossils, everything seems to come alive and their curiosity is piqued."

That curiosity can sometimes linger longer than elementary school days.

Johnson's former student, Connor Larson-Pearce, has her own fossil collection.

"I was always interested in dinosaurs, skeletons, gems, jewels and all kinds of things like that."

Mr. Johnson is glad that interest has followed Connor into high school and probably beyond.

"That's what teaching is about; just get the kids hooked and they are."

Pat Bartell says a great time to go fossil hunting along the Saint Louis River is in the spring.

Winter ice tends to act as a bulldozer and plows fresh things to find ashore every year.