In the early 1980s, amateur paleontologists discovered fossils at a commercial shell pit near Tampa. Public volunteers aided museum staff to complete an extensive excavation in just 6 months, recovering over 20,000 specimens. This demonstrated the great value of volunteers at fossil digs, now common practice.


Leisey Shell Pit Specimens
From Hillsborough Co., Florida
Lived ~1.5–1 million years ago

Saber-toothed Cat Tooth (Smilodon gracilis)
Tapir Jaw (Tapirus haysii)
Llama Jaw (Palaeolama mirifica)


Vertebrate Paleontology


For many years fossil collecting at the Florida Museum of Natural History and most museums was limited to Museum staff and graduate students. In 1984, a huge fossil discovery south of Tampa called the Leisey Shell Pit changed the way we work at fossil sites. At that site we had such a large accumulation of fossils we required extra persons to excavate the site in a timely manner. We were able to use media — television, newspaper accounts — to attract hundreds of volunteers. From this we learned that the public’s fascination with fossils could be used to help us collect fossils at many future fossil sites. You’re always welcome to check our volunteer website to determine when the next volunteer fossil dig is occurring.

Richard Hulbert
Collection Manager, Vertebrate Paleontology*
Florida Museum of Natural History


On display Sept. 23, 2017-Jan. 7, 2018, Rare, Beautiful & Fascinating: 100 Years @FloridaMuseum celebrated the Museum’s rich history. Each Museum collection was asked to contribute its most interesting items and share the stories that make them special. Though the physical exhibit is closed, this companion website remains online, providing an opportunity to experience the Florida Museum’s most treasured specimens.

Exhibit Area: Faces of the Museum

Theme: Volunteer Power

Cover of the All Things Beautiful bookWant to see more? Explore more than 300 breathtaking color photos of plants, animals, fossils and cultural heritage materials from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s collections in the award-winning book All Things Beautiful available from the University Press of Florida.

*This title was accurate at the time the exhibit was on display in 2017. Please visit the collection website to verify current staff and student information.

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