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After his lawnmower blade struck a rock, Austin Kramer decided to check the yard for more hazards.
He turned up: two halves of a toy Starship Enterprise, a snake and at least two interesting fossils.
Coincidentally, the fossils — probably ammonites — look like coiled snakes.
Because of their striking shape, these sea creature remains have inspired many legends explaining how they came to be. For instance, English lore says a cleric who wanted to clear serpents from an abbey building site turned the snakes to stone, according to London’s Natural History Museum.
The 18-year-old Kramer, who was fascinated with rocks when he was younger, showed them to his Fort Knox High School science teacher, Steve Thomas.
Having majored in geology, Thomas gets the school’s geology questions. He said he was excited when he saw the fossils, which are in great condition.
A paleontologist with the Kentucky Geological Society told Thomas these types of fossils can be found in this area — but they’re rare.
“I’ve been looking for fossils for 40 years; I’ve never found one that good — not around here,” Thomas said.
Somewhere between 345 million and 310 million years ago, the creatures that ended up in Kramer’s Elizabethtown yard were swimming around with tentacles sticking out of their shells.
That’s back when this place was covered by an ocean, whose creatures fell to the bottom and eventually formed a layer of limestone from here to St. Louis.
Kramer’s fossils — six to eight inches across and made of quartz — may be worth a couple hundred dollars each, Thomas said. Mounted as bookends, they’d go for more.
Among Thomas’ more unusual finds were fossilized dino dung and sticks immortalized in fool’s gold near Boston, Ky.
Fossil hunters around here also may come across coral and traces of ancient worm droppings, for example. While an exposed rock embankment is a good place to look, so is a gravel parking lot.
“You can find stuff all over the place around here,” Thomas said.
Native Americans of the Blackfoot tribe thought they could locate ammonites by listening for a faint, bird-like chirp, according to the Natural History Museum. They called them buffalo stones because the fossils resemble the animal when it sleeps, and the tribe used ammonites in ceremonies.
Unearthing one was cause for celebration.
When looking for fossils, keep an eye out for unusual formations — especially those that are more round and symmetrical, Thomas said.
Some things in the ground are easier to identify than others.
“The Starship Enterprise, that was pretty obvious,” Thomas said.
John Friedlein’s Stories from the Heartland column appears each Monday in The News-Enterprise. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.