LILESVILLE — One Anson County resident thinks he has found ancient fossils in a Lilesville creek.
Jonathan McCormick first became interested in digging about 15 years ago when he was crawfishing, looking for bait to use to try to catch catfish.
“I was about 14 or 15 when I tripped on the biggest I’ve found,” he said. “I looked it up, and found that it was a quartz with amethysts inside.” The rock weighed 87 pounds.
That find pushed him to become an amateur geologist, hunting along his great-uncle’s creek for crystals to add to his collection. Now a mechanic, he sells crystals and gemstones to individuals both in and outside of Anson.
“Recently, a couple months back, a little farther down the creek I came across one big rock,” McCormick said. “I was looking at and around it and noticed on one side it had a fossilized what I thought was a horn but turned out to be a dinosaur tooth. I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I’m pretty sure a spinosaurus is what it would have been.”
McCormick has contacted some experts in the hopes of finding out for sure what it is he’s found. He talked with state geologist Dr. Kenneth Taylor and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences called him on May 16 asking him to send photographs and bring his smaller rock samples to the museum. He said Taylor also plans to visit along with the mutual friend who introduced them.
The most interesting of the samples is too large to tote to Raleigh. It is trapped within what McCormick believes is a large piece of sedimentary rock.
If it is a fossil of a dinosaur, McCormick hopes to find more fossils of the same creature. He plans to look along with his great-uncle’s friend who plans to visit.
While he wants to search, McCormick doesn’t want to risk destroying any fossils that may exist.
“Most of the time I walk the creeks looking for loose rocks; I let the creek do all the excavation, mostly,” he said. “Up until I can and have the chance to, I won’t do too much digging — no hardcore digging, no heavy equipment or anything like that. It’ll all be by hands, shovels and spades, and picks, little stuff.”
Taylor said that according to the Geologic Map of North Carolina from 1985, the Middendorf Formation near Lilesville is sedimentary rock from the Coastal Plain. The formation has sand, sandstone, and mudstone, clay balls and more, he said, the Cretaceous Coastal Plain rocks.
The Cretaceous Period was 145.5 million to 65.5 million years ago, according to LearnNC.org, a program by the University of North Carolina School of Education.
“Flowering plants proliferated, along with new types of insects that pollinate them,” the site reads. “Many new types of dinosaurs (e.g., Tyrannosaurs, Titanosaurs, duck bills, and horned dinosaurs) evolved on land, as did modern crocodilians (crocodiles and alligators). Modern sharks appeared in the sea, Primitive birds gradually replaced pterosaurs.”
The Cretaceous Period follows the Jurassic period, and is thought to have been the end of the dinosaurs.
“The eastern portion of the modern Coastal Plain of North Carolina again lay under water, but the ocean receded late in this period,” the site says. “Elsewhere, the southern landmasses broke up, creating the continents of Africa and South America as well as the southern Atlantic Ocean. The youngest ranges of the Rocky Mountains formed. At the end of the (Cretaceous), 65 million years ago, a mass extinction occurred, and the dinosaurs disappeared.”
According to LearnNC.org, “Homo habilis, the first species of the genus Homo to which humans belong, appeared” in the Pliocene Epoch of the Neogene Period about 5.3 million years ago. Human civilizations are thought to have begun about 9,000 B.C.E.
Some controversial “young earth” scientists, such as Dr. Ken Ham, the CEO and founder of Answers in Genesis, believe that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time after being created in the same six days and that the earth is only about 6,000 years old, based on Genesis 1 in the Bible. According to the text, God created water creatures and birds on the fifth day and land animals and mankind on the sixth day.
The geological map shows a variety of rock types in the county.
“The area around Lilesville is a limb of the Coastal Plain sediment,” Taylor said. “We call it an outlier; the Coastal plain eroded away… When you look at the map of the area, all around it is the Carolina Slate Belt, stuff that’s very old — 260 million years-old stuff. The stuff right around Lilesville is Cretaceous stuff, from 75 million years ago or something like that.”
That small outlier is surrounded by the granitic rock, a type of igneous rock where fossils are very rarely found, of the Carolina Slate Belt.
The site where McCormick discovered his suspected fossil appears to be south of the small Coastal Plain Cretaceous outlier and Coastal Plain tertiary rocks, within the Raleigh Slate Belt region — which is made up of metamorphic rocks from the late Proterozoic-Cambrian period.
According to LearnNC, many fossils can be found from the Cambrian period, though ones from earlier are rare. Dinosaurs are supposed to have appeared millions of years later in the Triassic period.
The next step
“One of things we need to do is to take a look up close,” Taylor said. “Hopefully, we would pass it quickly over to the Museum of Natural Sciences and let them take a look. They have paleontologist people there.”
When finds occur on private property, Taylor said the first step is getting the permission of the landowner to dig, and working out what happens if something is found.
“It depends on the rarity of the material,” he said. “If they say, ‘Come in, keep anything you find,’ and it’s something extraordinarily rare, we’d want to have somebody preserving that for other research scientists to take a look at also.”
The researchers may want to borrow the potential fossils.
“The key thing is, people want to know how much it’s worth, but a museum often wants you to donate or, if it’s unique, to let them borrow it to study,” Taylor said.
The rock surrounding the potential fossils will be very revealing.
“The age of the rock it’s been found in very much limits what it can be,” Taylor explained. “If stuff is from the Precambrian period, there weren’t things that had horns back in Precambrian. The biggest part of the contextual nature is, lets see where it was found, arrive at the place and look at it, look at the geological information and say, ‘It’s potentially got this kind of environment.’ Let’s look at where it’s found. Igneous and metamorphic rocks are rocks that were altered by temperature and pressure. If it’s that, then can’t be a fossil because you can’t have fossils in that kind of rock. If it’s sedimentary, where the fossil was deposited in that sediment and became (fossilized) over time, it could very well could be a fossil.”
Where McCormick discovered his rock, the earth contains mica, sand and red clay. According to the geological maps, the Raleigh belt contains mica, and the Coastal Plain granitic rock has clayey sand and sand.
Taylor was unaware of any previous fossil excavations in the Lilesville area. He passed Anson Record photos of McCormick’s find on to experts of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences “since our expertise in paleontology is limited to invertebrates,” he said via email.
McCormick said that he will always check with his great-uncle before bringing anyone to the property to look at the site or bringing them in on the project, but that his uncle is excited at the prospect. While he said they are “conservative to a point,” he added that they would likely be willing to excavate the area and replace the dirt after the project was complete.
Could the discovery of fossils in Anson County change the minds of people who support bringing the controversial practice of hydrofracking to Anson County?
“That right there I don’t agree with at all,” he said. “Finding something like a dinosaur fossil could possibly deter that, and to preserve Anson County in any way, you know, it would be in our benefit to preserve the fossils and history rather than to destroy our natural resources. There are a lot better ways to get energy and fuels that we need, we have the technology nowadays that we don’t need all of the fossil fuels.”
For now, McCormick will focus on getting answers, and continuing to hunt for fossils, crystals and gemstones with his and his wife Jaclyn’s daughters: Kendall, 15, Hailey, nearly 10, and Shelby, 5.
While he plans to carefully check for more fossils, he isn’t sure he’ll take the risk of cleaning the potential dinosaur tooth.
“I’ll probably leave that to the experts.”
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.