Author: Mark Renz
Illustrator: Cover and inside - Marisa Renz
Publisher: PaleoPress
Signed copies available
Edition: Paperback

Release date: May 1, 2005.

263 pages. Includes nearly 800 black and white photos, and 8 illustrations. Price is $24.95, plus 3.75 U.S. shipping (add .90 state sales tax for Florida residents).

For credit card orders, call 239-368-3252, or send a check or money order to PaleoPress, 213 Lincoln Avenue, Lehigh Acres, FL 33972. For questions, send e-mail to,

From the back cover

Avocational paleontologist Mark Renz stumbles onto a 500,000 year-old ancient Florida river bed and discovers dozens of skeletons of lumbering mammoth and mastodon elephants, bull-size ground sloths, llamas, old-world horses, pig-like peccaries, primitive wolves and deer. The discovery triggers many questions. Was it a major storm, flood, drought or plague that killed so many creatures at once? Or do their bones represent one animal dying every ten years for thousands of years? What signs do scientists look for to determine cause and time of death? What are the ethical considerations for amateur fossil hunters who come across such a site? How do you determine who to contact and how to excavate if given permission? Nearly 800 field photos offer tantalizing clues about how these animals lived and died.

From the Foreword

"All of the dedication and hard work by Renz and his crew, so richly displayed in these pages, has paid off bountifully in fossils from an interval of geologic time that was previously poorly known in Florida. Thanks to them, we now know much more than we did before about the animals that lived in Southwest Florida approximately 500,000 years ago." -- Dr. Richard C. Hulbert, Jr., Vertebrate Paleontology Collections Manager, Florida Museum of Natural History


We amateur fossil collectors are a lucky lot. We get to be outdoors, play in the mud, explore the unknown, wear a detectiveís cap and just possibly, contribute a page of knowledge to the volumes already written about the science of paleontology.

Ours is a hobby in which we have an opportunity to give more than take. That is what this book is chiefly about. When we pick up a piece of the past, what is our responsibility? When is it okay to keep a fossil and when should we turn it over to science for the greater public good? What are the ethical considerations in fossil collecting?

I am an amateur evolving. Initially, I kept every piece of bone or tooth, no matter how tiny, and never thought about turning anything over to science. Ninety percent of every museumís collection is stored in basement boxes, I reasoned. The Smithsonian Institute alone has tons of fossils still in their plaster jackets from prior to the 1930s. No one has had time to open them all and prep them for study or exhibits. What good are they in dusty old basements away from public view?

With that in mind, I freely collected as many bones and teeth as I could, then proudly displayed them on every table and counter top, so that when friends popped by, I could brag about my exploits. So whatís wrong with that? Nothing perhaps. But it left me unsettled. A conscience is a funny thing. Sometimes it makes you come to your senses. Other times it makes you run from them. Iíve done both, as these pages will reveal.

In my evolution of thinking, I do not want to come across as self-righteous. I have made my share of mistakes over the years. But I have also tried to learn from each one. It is my sincere hope that through this book, you may also pay attention to your conscience and do the right thing -- whether itís turning an important fossil over to science or some other personal struggle. I have found that there is no better feeling than knowing you did the right thing.

Mark Renz

Excerpts from "Giants"

Chapter 1: River Of Ghosts

As the churning creek crests its banks, the horses grow restless and jumpy. Every time a pine tree branch snaps in half from the wind it sends them snorting and galloping away a few hundred yards, only to be driven back as they encounter deeper water in the low coutnry.

Chapter 2: It's A Dirty Job

I got on my knees and used a method that had worked well for me in the past. I call it "raccooning". I roll up my sleeves and run my hands down through the mud, feeling for fossils like a raccoon digging for tasty clams.

Chapter 3: Digging Outside The Box

"I think I know what it is," Bill, I said wide-eyed.


"A mastodon jaw!"

Within a few minutes, I could feel a molar on either side. I could tell it was an older animal by the great amount of wear on one of the teeth. What a feeling! Here was a primitive elephant that had died at the end of a long life -- well before Europeans settled here and long before Native Americans got attacked by their first Florida mosquito.

Chapter 4: Looking For Answers

"To really study fossil horses in detail you need to be able to find the upper and lower teeth, and the post cranial elements of the skeleton," said Hulbert. "You need to find the metapodials and the toe bones, and then tie all those together. And when you're just dealing with isolated finds in the river, you don't really know that. But when you have a site like LaBelle, where you're digging out fossils in what we call in-situ, which are intact animals being dug out at one place, it provides us with far more information."

Chapter 5: Basements And Attics, Passions And Fanatics

As I added even more volume to my collection, I began to realize that this is precisely what that late curmudgeon of a philosopher Henry David Thoreau was talking about. Bulding up material possessions just gives a person more things to dust.

Chapter 6: Presidents, Pumps And Proboscideans

President Jefferson was so excited about the mastodon find that he offered the Navy's most efficient pump. It consisted of dozens of five gallon buckets secured on a line, one above the other. They were connected by a huge conveyor belt which was operated by four men walking abreast inside a massive Ferris whell-looking contraption. It drew out the water bucket-by-bucket-full and dumped it into a trough leading into another pond.

Chapter 7: Thieves Of The Heart

Ariel view of the site.

Chapter 8: You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover

"I'm not saying there could not have been a catastrophic event," cautioned Hulbert. "but you have to look at the geological factors and the geologic condition. Does it look like a single rapid event, or long stage deposition? In a catastrophic assemblage, you look at the features of the bones. Do you see weathering? Do you see bite marks? Do you see other bone modification? And you can never be 100 percent sure. It's always based on the preponderance of evidence to support one or the other. And so right now, I would side with..."

Chapter 9: Resurrecting The Ghosts

There are approximately 600 black & white photos in this section and another 200 photos elsewhere in this book. This chapter shows the field photos of a lot of the bones and teeth recovered from the site.

Chapter 10: Prehistory Repeats Itself

Sites like LaBelle, may not be that uncommon. This is a second site within 4 miles of the first one. However, they may go unnoticed by science because no amateur recognizes their significance, or they do and want to keep the bones for themselves. Or, a commercial business stumbles onto the bones while digging a pond and keeps it quiet for fear they'll be shut down. Perhaps some creative and positive incentives to report such finds could change things.

Chapter 11: Reflections

I left my footprints at the bottom of the pit for scientists a million years from now to discover and scratch their heads. I'm sure they'll say, wow, have you ever seen such big feet? I have followed the footprints of wading birds, turtles and alligators to realize their steps are much more deliberate than mine."

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