A look at fossils and the science of paleontology

Fossils are evidence of pre-existing list – usually found in sedimentary rocks. As life is diverse, so are the types of fossils preserved. There is a wide range of preservation – from unaltered to mineral-replaced to casts and molds. Fossils can be made of calcite, quartz, carbon residue, pyrite, and rarely other minerals.

Alan Goldstein’s look at fossils

I’ve been interested in fossils (and collecting them) since I was five years old (photo below). When I was in 5th, 6th & 7th grade, I studied geology in 4-H, went on field trips and joined the local geology club. I majored in geology at the University of Louisville (back when they had geology department). By the time I graduated, I decided I had too many interests and got a master’s in education with the intent of becoming a non-formal science educator. Over this time, my interest in fossils became that of a serious hobbyist collector and studied rock formations and the fauna within. I sought publications to identify fossils and wrote articles to share knowledge. I’m a firm believer in the adage, the best way to gain knowledge is to write about it so others can understand it.

Six-year old Alan Goldstein with his first rock collections in 1965.
My first rock collecting foray in May 1965.

The result is that have a brought depth of knowledge on identifying fossils – and how to identify them if they are in areas where I have never collected before. I intend to write something like, ‘tips on how to identify fossils.’ Over the years, I collected fossils throughout Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, southern Illinois, Missouri, northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Ohio, a bit of West Virginia and Virginia, Kansas, Colorado, Florida, and in Canada, British Columbia and Ontario. My most recent fossil foray was in the Alpena, Michigan area.

What about fossils from other places?

Between 1982 and 2008, I traded fossils overseas. It has since become too expensive to ship. That enabled me to broaden my understand of paleontology in the UK, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Denmark, and especially Australia (where I had friends involved in research). Trading is rare for me the past ten years for two reasons: It’s hard to find something new; the fossils don’t have good scientific data (geological formation or location accuracy). That’s something I take for granted because “digging” up the data is a part of collecting. I don’t want an interesting rock I want a fossil with as much data as possible.


I have written many articles over the years published in several different periodicals.

Any posted here may be reprinted in geology club newsletters if you offer a link to my home page.

Fossils of the Louisville Limestone – from Fossil News v. 2, no. 1-2, 1983

The Distribution of Paleozoic Corals – M.A.P.S. Digest, March, 1985 (updated in 2011)

The Coral Ridge Fauna – M.A.P.S Digest, 1992 (updated)

Mississippian Shark Teeth, Spines, Etc. (Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri & Iowa)

Articles in PDF format:

Locality Profile – Cannons Lane Road Cut (Louisville, Kentucky), Ohio Valley Paleontologist, Spring 1985

Article written in 1985 on one of my favorite collecting sites in the 1970s & early 80s.

This article above was written for a group I established in 1985 that only lasted one year. No other member wanted to help me run the club and I became too busy to keep it going single-handedly!

Selling fossils

There is a debate among professional paleontologists about the sale of fossils. Opinions vary from “it’s a way to get the next generation interested” to “no way – each fossil is unique” to “common fossils are okay but rare fossils only belong in museums.” Having talked with thousands of people over my career, I lean toward the first opinion. Why? People want to see and hold real fossils. Would a fossil made of plastic entice someone into a field of science? If you had the chance to teach with plastic fossils or real ones, which do you think would better hold the interest of your students? Without question, touching a real fossil gives you the chance to connect with something that lived and died millions of years ago. Is that cool, or what?

The long list of fossils below is those that I have collected over the years. Do they belong in a museum? Most specimens are not rare and have varying degrees of “display quality.” Museums don’t need too many of the same species – and many specialize in material collected by staff research, published fossils (new species or those part of a research project). Some fossils don’t lend themselves to current research methods. Quartz-replaced (silicified) fossils look nice on the outside but lack internal structure lost by replacement. Many fossils in the Louisville, Kentucky area fall under that category.

The only published research I’ve been involved with is Mississippian crinoids from Hardin Co., Kentucky. That is in three articles in the Journal of Paleontology. Other research I’ve published is in amateur paleontology periodicals (see my bibliography page). My personal fossil collection that dates to the mid-1960s is destined for two institutions: the Indiana State Museum and the Cincinnati Museum Center. My collection is dominated by local fossils and those obtained in trade from locations around the world. They tend to be low-dollar value specimens (no T. rex’s or giant ammonites) but scientifically well-documented with data shown below.

My list is long and detailed for reasons described above. I want to know what I found! Sometimes, identification is difficult because of the lack of resources to do so. That’s why I collect books and specialized publications if they can help.

My list has too many fossils that are too inexpensive to photograph each one. This is something I do for fun and to share knowledge. Sometimes it takes me a while to find, wrap, and ship specimens. My collection of inventory is organized but it’s in the back of a garage that is really cluttered! Sometimes I can’t access the right box right away. Once I retire, I will have more time – in theory.

Here’s an example of the kind of information I put on a typical label:

  • Type of Fossil:                    Rugose (Horn) Coral
  • Species (or genus):            Zaphrentites spinulosa (Edwards & Haime)
  • Formation and Stage:      Indian Springs Shale, Chesterian,
  • Age / Period:                       Upper Mississippian
  • Locality:                               Sulphur, Crawford Co., Indiana

List of Fossils available from Alan Goldstein

Brachiopods                Bryozoans                   Corals                         Echinoderms            Mollusks

Sponges                Trace Fossils               Trilobites & Crustaceans         

Misc. Fossils (Plants, worms, microfossils, problematic, vertebrates)