Fossil Reference Books

by Joyce Drakeford

The very first reference book I purchased, because I live in Virginia, was Fossil Sharks of the Chesapeake Bay Region by Bretton W. Kent. It was written about fossil shark teeth found in a particular stratigraphy local to the Chesapeake Bay, but because of the overlap in the fossil time line, it can be applied to several areas. (With over 50 species of fossil shark teeth found just in the Aurora mine spoil piles, I have heavily referred to this book.) Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print but it can be found on Amazon, EBay, used book stores, and possibly in your local library.

Dr. Bretton W. Kent is the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Entomology at the University of Maryland. His primary research is on fossil sharks of the Neogene with specialized research in biomechanics of teeth and diets and how that relates to modern day sharks.

Fossil Sharks of the CBR is very useful for amateur and intermediate fossil collectors. It goes through terminology, stratigraphy, anatomy, and prepping fossil shark finds. The meat of the book goes through each shark by group as well as an Appendix with dentitions. Each shark group gives a description of identifying characteristics and an examination of the teeth. The teeth are shown in detailed, hand-drawn images. It also reviews the hot debate about the lineage of mega toothed sharks and where our modern Great White shark descended from. Additional Appendices include definitions of terminology and stratigraphic details which are very important scientifically.

I find the book to be well organized and with the perfect amount of detail. It will help the novice learn without being overwhelmed and be a continual reference thereafter.

For my next reference I have chosen Vertebrate Fossils: A Neophyte’s Guide by Frank A. Kocsis, Jr. As this book states, it is “a book by non-professionals for non-professionals.” Mr. Kocsis, Jr. grew up in western New York but moved to Florida in the 1980’s. He eventually joined the Tampa Bay Fossil Club.

This reference is great to have handy because it doesn’t exclusively focus on sharks, although there is one dedicated chapter. It also goes through chapters on rays, reptiles, birds, cetacea and mammals (large, small and hoofed). It doesn’t list every single fossil that can be found in the aforementioned categories, of course, but it gives excellent examples from each one. Also, it isn’t just about teeth. It reviews several anatomical fossils that can be found with many of the listings. There are nice detailed black and white photos of each fossil to help with identification.

Sadly, this reference book is no longer in print but it can also be found on Amazon, EBay, used book stores or may by located in your local library. Again, this reference can be applied to several locations with overlapping time periods so this book has been useful to me in that context.

The third reference book I have chosen to write about in this article is The Fossil Vertebrates of Florida by the Florida Paleontological Society and edited by Dr. Richard C. Hulbert, Jr.

Since there were many contributions to this book by Florida’s state and regional club members, there is detailed information for each listed after the Preface. An Authorship page follows the group list. Dr. Hulbert is the collection manager for the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville.

I find this to be a more intermediate collector’s reference. The Fossil Vertebrates of Florida goes more into extensive terminology and lineage of fossils but has great detailed visualization. It not only has wonderful black and white photos of actual member fossils, it has intricate detailed illustrations. Like book two, this one also goes over a variety of fossils from Florida from the wee Vole to the massive Ground Sloth. You will find a section on fossil shark teeth and the mega toothed shark controversy. Again, some listings from FVF can be used in other areas.

This book is still available for purchase. It can be located on Amazon and the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida website, both with listings of $39.95.

I started with the listed three books because they do come highly recommended. The second and third books were originally recommended to me by Mace Brown of the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History at the College of Charleston in South Carolina during a visit a few years ago. If you are following the webinars, you will have heard Vertebrate Fossils: A Neophyte’s Guide recommended by Jayson Kowinsky (The Fossil Guy).

I’ve personally used all three books for reference from the state of Maryland all the way down to Florida, and not only enjoyed reading them but have learned a great deal. Hopefully, you will too!


Kent, B. W.  Fossil Sharks of the Chesapeake Bay. Egan Rees & Boyer, Inc. Columbia, Maryland, 1994, 146 pages

Kocsis, Jr., F. A. Vertebrate Fossils: A Neophyte’s Guide. 2002, 184 pages

Florida Paleontological Society. The Fossil Vertebrates of Florida. The University Press of Florida, 2001, 350 pages

Editor’s note: Other books of interest include the recently released Guide to Fossil Collecting, Color Guide to Pennsylvanian Fossils of North Texas, and Footprints in Stone: Fossil Traces of Coal-Age Tetrapods.

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