Gillespie

AGATIZED CORAL — This agatized coral from the Miocene Epoch, which was the first epoch of the Neogene subdivision of the Tertiary Period and extends from about 23.03 million to 5.333 million years ago, is shaped like Florida and was found at Ballast Point in Tampa. It is on display with other specimens in the “Agatized Coral and Other Silicified Fossils of Florida” exhibit at Stetson University’s Gillespie Museum.

The Gillespie Museum’s first Science Café of the 2019-20 academic year will provide visitors with an opportunity to view the “Agatized Coral and Other Silicified Fossils of Florida” exhibit on Stetson University’s campus.

The display, which features 140 fossil specimens, including agatized coral and silicate fossils, is a stunning and diverse assemblage from the personal collections of Florida geologists Dr. Sam Upchurch, professor emeritus of geology and former geology department chair at the University of South Florida, and Gary Maddox, a state hydrogeologist and co-owner of Apalachee Minerals.

Agatized coral was chosen by the state Legislature in 1970 as Florida’s state rock. The rock formed when silica in the ocean water replaced ancient buried corals.

The specimens in this exhibit represent organisms that lived 20 million to 30 million years ago in the shallow seas, which covered prehistoric Florida during the Oligocene and early Miocene epochs.

Today, agatized coral can be found in the Econfina River in Taylor County, the Withlacoochee River near the Florida and Georgia state line, Ballast Point in Hillsborough County, and Nutall Rise on the Aucilla River in Jefferson County.

Guests will have a chance to learn more about the exhibit during a free opening-night reception and gallery talk by Upchurch and Maddox 5-7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4.

Upchurch has been collecting minerals and fossils for more than 50 years. During the late 1970s, he received a research grant from the state of Florida to develop a method for archaeologists to identify locations in Florida, where early Native Americans obtained chert (silicified limestone) for the manufacturing of tools, such as spear points, arrowheads, knives and scrapers.

Maddox’s interest in geology was deepened after he relocated to Jacksonville when he was 11 years old. He joined the Jacksonville Gem and Mineral Society and attended the group’s collecting trips, which sparked his interest in geology and environmental science. He has worked as a geologist in Florida for the past 33 years.

The “Agatized Coral and Other Silicified Fossils of Florida” exhibit will be on display through Wednesday, May 6, and will be the focus of a range of Science Café conversations and Science Saturday events in late fall and spring.