Photo: Ellen Morris Bishop

Fossils of Metasequoia, commonly called “dawn redwoods” are abundant in Oregon’s fossil record particularly near the Painted Hills and the towns of Mitchell and Fossil.

Past citizens of Oregon can be found in rocks throughout the state ranging in age from 10 thousand to hundreds of millions of years old. Marine fossils can be found along today’s coast or far inland, marking ancient coastlines. One of the world’s greatest records of life after the dinosaurs and before the Ice Age is found in the John Day Basin. Arid eastern Oregon is home to Ice Age fossils, records of a colder, wetter time. Keep your eyes open as you explore Oregon, you may just meet one of its past citizens!


In this window, you can learn what is a fossil and how marine fossils are found not only along the coast, but also hundreds of miles inland! You can also see representations of the eight main communities of fossils from the John Day Fossil Beds-one of the best preserved and most complete records of life ranging from more than 44 to 7 million years ago. Learn about a “mammoth” discovery in one Oregon child’s backyard and get to know Metasequoia, Oregon’s state fossil, living examples of which were discovered in China in the 1940s!


Know before you go:

All fossils are irreplaceable past citizens of Oregon. Fossils cannot be collected within any National Park Service land or state parks. Fossil collection is restricted on US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land as well. It is your responsibility to check with the local land owner or land management agency for information and regulations. There are opportunities to legally collect fossils, visit the websites below for more information!


Digging Deeper: For more information, visit these websites:


John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Take the virtual tour!) (National Park Service):


Oregon Paleo Lands Institute:


Learn more about Oregon’s state fossil Metasequoia (while you’re at the Capitol, stroll through the Willson Park garden, can you find the Metasequoia planted there?):

House Joint Resolution 3 ( established Metasequoia as the state fossil.


North American Research Group:


The John Day Fossil Beds contain some 14 different genera of fossil horses! Visit Fossil Horses in Cyberspace to learn more about their fascinating evolutionary story:


Oregon Fossils, including a list of museums where you can see Oregon fossils, and rules on collecting fossils in the state:


For a small fee, you can collect fossils, including the state fossil Metasequoia, at a classic locality behind Wheeler County High School in Fossil Oregon.


Digging Deeper: For more information, give this sample of books a read:


Fossil Shells from Western Oregon by Ellen J. Moore (2000, Chintimini Press



Oregon Fossils by Elizabeth L. Orr and William N. Orr (1998, Kendall/Hunt



Geology of Oregon, 5th Edition by Elizabeth L. Orr and William N. Orr (2000, Kendall/Hunt []) Professors at the University of Oregon, the Orr’s have been writing about Oregon’s geology for decades.


In Search of Ancient Oregon by Ellen Morris Bishop (2003, Timber Press

[]) Take a photographic journey through time and see Oregon’s ancient places.

Assembling Oregon
Geological Resources
Geology and People
Volcanoes of Oregon