Pennsylvania is a good state for rockhounding. Pennsylvania – the ‘Keystone State’ – is known for its vast coal deposits as well as the fact that it was the location for the first oil well in the United States. Pennsylvania also is a state with numerous different minerals and thousands of different fossil plant and animal species. The state also has numerous caves as well as a very interesting geologic oddity. In addition, Pennsylvania is home to one of the very finest natural history museums in America. Meteorite hunters have yet to find the main mass of the ‘Chicora Meteorite’ that hit Western Pennsylvania in Butler County.
State Rocks, Gemstones, Minerals, Fossils, & Dinosaurs
Rockhounding Tip: Knowing state rocks, gemstones, minerals, fossils, and dinosaurs often can be very useful information for rockhounders. Ordinarily, states with significant mineral deposits, valuable gemstones, fossils, or unusual or significant rock occurrences will designate an official state mineral, rock/stone, gemstone, fossil, or dinosaur to promote interest in the state’s natural resources, history, tourism, etc. Accordingly, such state symbols often are a valuable clue as to potential worthwhile rockhounding opportunities.
State Fossil: Phacops rana (1988)
Pennsylvania designated Phacops rana as its official state fossil in 1988. Phacops rana is a specific type of trilobite, a small sea creature. Trilobites are so named because their bodies are divided lengthwise into three parts or "lobes." Trilobites are an extinct category of jointed-legged animals related to crabs, lobsters, shrimp, spiders, insects, and so on. This group of creatures, called arthropods, is among the most complex of all the animals without backbones. Trilobites are no exception. They had well-developed nervous systems and large antennae. Trilobites also had a hard outer skeleton composed of chitin, a complex organic protein, and the mineral apatite (calcium phosphate). Many trilobites had large eyes. They are, in fact, the first organisms on earth known to have eyes. The trilobites had compound eyes, composed of many individual lenses, like those of insects. Trilobites possess the most ancient visual system known to scientists and thus they provided some of the best direct evidence of eye evolution. Trilobites are a common fossil in many of the early to middle Paleozoic rocks of central Pennsylvania – rocks that are between 570 and 365 million years old. Complete fossil specimens are rare because the animals were composed of rigid outer skeletal segments joined by flexible organic connections that decayed on the death of the animal. Currents, scavengers, and molting all served to separate skeletal parts, which comprise the most common trilobite fossils in Pennsylvania. This common abundance of trilobite parts in the fossil record, in fact, was enhanced by the fact that the animals grew by casting off their outer skeleton in a series of molt stages. One animal probably produced ten to twelve potentially preservable skeletons in its lifetime. Phacops rana can be recognized by its large eyes (which remind some of a frog's -- the specific name rana is a reference to a common frog and phacops is Greek for 'lens' or 'eye') and its fairly large size (up to six inches long).
State Mineral - In 2004, celestine was proposed as the state mineral. The proposal, however, was not approved.
State-specific rockhounding books (including the books listed here as well as other books), regional rockhounding site guides, and other helpful rockhounding resources are identified - by category - in the Books & Gear section of Gator Girl Rocks with a link to the Gator Girl Rocks Amazon Store where you may easily browse selected resources and securely place an order. Your order will benefit Charity Rocks!
Pennsylvania Bureau of Topographic & Geological
Useful website with information (and pamphlets) on fossil, mineral, and rock collecting.
- Bradford B. Van Diver, Roadside Geology of Pennsylvania (1st ed., 1990).
- Scott Stepanski & Karenne Snow, Gem Trails of Pennsylvania & New Jersey (Rev. ed. 2000).
- Robert Beard, Rockhounding Pennsylvania & New Jersey (2013).
- Jasper Burns, Fossil Collecting In the Mid-Atlantic States (1991).
- Floyd & Helga Oles, Eastern Gem Trails (1967).
- Allan W. Eckert, Earth Treasures Vol. 1 - Northeastern Quadrant (1985; reprint in 2000)
- James Martin Monaco & Jeannette Hathway Monaco, Fee Mining & Mineral Adventures in the Eastern U.S. (2d ed. 2010).
- Kathy J. Rygle & Stephen F. Pedersen, Northeast Treasure Hunter's Gem & Mineral Guide (4th ed. 2008).
- Kevin Patrick, Pennsylvania Caves & Other Rocky Roadside Wonders (2d ed. 2004).
Museums of Interest to Rockhounders
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is one of the very best natural history museums in America. The museum has an extensive collection and exhibits thousands of specimens. The museum’s dinosaur collection includes the world's largest collection of Jurassic dinosaurs and its ‘Dinosaurs in Their Time’ exhibit offers the third largest collection of mounted, displayed dinosaurs in the United States. Notable specimens include one of the world's only fossils of a juvenile Apatosaurus and the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex known to date. The Museum’s Hillman Hall of Minerals & Gems exhibits over 1,300 specimens including a section on the meteorites that have hit Pennsylvania. The Museum also includes the Benedum Hall of Geology, the Hall of Ice Age Animals, and other fine exhibits.
Academy of Natural Sciences
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is America’s oldest natural history museum. The Academy has a legendary history with dinosaurs in America. Academy scientist Joseph Leidy made the first report of dinosaur fossils in North America in 1856. These fossils consisted of a few teeth collected from the Judith River Formation in Montana. Two years later, Leidy reported on the skeleton of Hadrosaurus foulkii, a large dinosaur discovered in New Jersey (Hadrosaurus the most complete dinosaur skeleton then known and it was the first to show that some dinosaurs walked on their hind legs). Today, visitors to the Academy’s Dinosaur Hall may see dinosaur skeletons, fossilized dinosaur eggs, footprints, and other exhibits. In addition, the Academy exhibits rocks, minerals, and fossils – including a collection of Thomas Jefferson.
State Museum of Pennsylvania
The Museum’s exhibits include a Hall of Paleontology and Geology that displays a Dunkleosteus, a large prehistoric armored fish that terrorized the seas of Ohio and Pennsylvania 367 million years ago. Visitors also may explore a carboniferous forest and see the plants and animals of the Pennsylvanian Period (about 310 million years ago). The museum also includes a Dino lab where visitors can watch technicians excavate fossils. The museum exhibits the Marshall's Creek Mastodon Skeleton.
Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum & Art Gallery
Penn State University – University Park, Pennsylvania
The EMS Museum & Art Gallery’s science gallery has displays of fossils, rocks, and minerals as well as an interactive earthquake exhibit.
The museum’s natural history collection includes minerals and fossils.
College Mineral Collection
Bryn Mawr College Geology Department – Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
The college has a fine collection of Pennsylvania and other minerals. The geology department has approximately 1,500 minerals exhibited in twenty-eight hall cases in the Park Science Center.
Paul R. Stewart Museum
Waynesburg College – Waynesburg, Pennsylvania
The museum exhibits rocks, minerals, gemstones, and fossils, including local specimens.
West Chester University Geology Museum
West Chester University – West Chester, Pennsylvania
The museum, located in the Schmucker Science Center, exhibits rocks, minerals, gemstones, and fossils, including local specimens.
Delaware County Institute of Science
The museum’s exhibits include minerals and fossils. The museum also houses the original plate blocks used to print Dr. Samuel Gordon's 1922 "Mineralogy of Pennsylvania."
Rennie Geology Museum
Dickinson College – Carlisle, Pennsylvania
The Rennie Geology Museum exhibits rocks, minerals, gemstones, and fossils including local specimens.
North Museum of Natural History & Science
The museum includes a small dinosaur gallery with fossilized claws, teeth, and bones.
Places to Visit - Interesting Sites To See
Ringing Rocks Park – Upper Black Eddy, Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Ringing Rocks Park is home to a geological oddity – a small field of boulders that are ringing rocks. Ringing rocks, which are not common, resonate like a bell when struck with a hammer. In the United States, the two most famous sites are this one and another site in Jefferson County, Montana.
Drake Well Museum
In 1859, Edwin L. Drake drilled the oil well that launched the modern petroleum industry along the banks of Oil Creek in Venango County, Pennsylvania.
Anthracite Museum Complex
Located in McDade Park, the Anthracite Museum Complex includes coal mining attractions as well as the Anthracite Heritage Museum.
Pennsylvania has numerous caves operated as tourist attractions.
Rockhounding Sites for Children & Families
Fossils – Marine
Swatara State Park – Lebanon & Schuylkill Counties, Pennsylvania
A very accessible and interesting collecting site for Middle Devonian (about 375 million years ago) fossils can be found in the eastern section of the park (Suedberg Fossil Site). Note: The Park previously included a good fossil collecting site for trilobites and other fossils. Because people undercut bridge/road supports, however, this site is closed. Unfortunately, this happens fairly routinely.