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Vertebrate Paleontology

Vertebrate Fossil Sites of Florida

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Vertebrate Fossil Sites of Florida


University of Florida Vertebrate Fossil Locality PI004

location of Seminole Field

Location: along banks of Joes Creek (labeled Saint Joes Creek on Google Maps) and its tributaries; about 6 miles (10 km) northwest of downtown St. Petersburg and 3 miles (5 km) southeast of Seminole, Pinellas County, Florida; 27.8° N, 82.7° W.

Age: late Pleistocene Epoch; Rancholabrean Land Mammal Age, about 11,000 to 25,000 years old (estimated).

Basis of Age: biochronology (presence of Sigmodon hispidus, Smilodon fatalis, Canis dirus, Tremarctos floridanus, Puma concolor, and Glyptotherium floridanum indicates a Rancholabrean age (Webb, 1974; Morgan and Seymour, 1997). A radiometric date of 2600 years before present done on charcoal from the area in the 1950s is undoubtedly too young, and represents a more recent stream channel deposit that cut into the late Pleistocene bone bed (Bullen, 1964).

Geology: Fossils derive from a 1- to 2-foot-thick (30-65 cm) bed of fine brown sand that includes varying amounts of clay (Cooke, 1926). This layer rests on top of a white, shelly sand. Above the bone layer is several feet of unfossiliferous sand and organic material. This is a description of the original site from the 1920s. Bullen (1964) described in detail the geology about 0.5 miles to the west, which in some areas was similar to the original site and in others had been disturbed and re-work by streams during the Holocene.

Depositional Environment: stream channels, oxbow lake, and flood deposits.

1925 excavations at Seminole Field

Figure 1. The excavations at Seminole Field circa 1925. A, general view of the site (in foreground) along with how undeveloped the area was at the time. B, vertical section through the sediments at the site, with trowels indicating the top and bottom of the bed producing the fossils. Photos taken by W. W. Holmes, reproduced from Wetmore (1931).

Excavation History and Methods: The locality was discovered by local resident Walter W. Holmes in 1924 (Figure 1). Holmes excavated the site with men he employed (Figure 2) and was joined periodically by staff of the American Museum of Natural History from 1925 to 1927 and in 1929 (Holmes and Simpson, 1931). Holmes donated almost all of his several thousand specimens to the American Museum of Natural History; about a dozen were instead given to the Florida Geological Survey. In the early 1950s a dredging operation straightened, widened, and deepened the creek into a drainage canal (Figure 3). This resulted in a second, less intensive round of collecting a short distance to west of the original site by several individuals. E. McConkey donated 10 specimens collected in 1953 to the Florida Museum of Natural History, including a partial carapace of the giant box turtle Terrapene putnami (Auffenberg, 1958: figure 7A). Herbert Winters of the Florida Geological Survey led field parties that collected almost 400 specimens in 1953. The last known collecting effort was by the Pinellas County Science Center and Brian Ridgway in 1980, which produced about 150 specimens that were donated to the Florida Museum of Natural History. No known grid system was employed at any time. It is not known if matrix was screenwashed for microfossils, and if so, how much. Most specimens are from medium- or large-sized species.

workers at Seminole Field in 1929

Figure 2. Two field assistants of W. W. Holmes (names unknown) pose before their excavation at Seminole Field on March 14, 1929. Photo by G. G. Simpson. Image credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/125093

1953 excavations at Seminole Field

Figure 3. Fossil collecting by the Florida Geological Survey along the banks of the dredged Joes Creek in 1953. Herbert Winters in foreground. Image credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/126160

Comments: Seminole Field was one of the "Big Three" late Pleistocene sites discovered in Florida during the first half of the 20th Century. The other two were on the eastern (Atlantic) coast of the state, the Vero Canal Site in Indian River County and the Melbourne Site in Brevard County. In combination or separately they have been responsible for many dozens of scientific publications. Many of them were related the human bones and/or artifacts possibly found in the same deposits as those of Pleistocene vertebrates, at the time a very controversial idea and one not endorsed by the mainstream archaeological community. Prior to 1950, there was also controversy between paleontologists about whether the age of these sites was early or late Pleistocene. All three of these sites were found along Florida’s densely populated and highly developed coastline. Relatively few such sites have been found since the 1930s. It is likely that many more lie undiscovered hidden below shopping malls, parking lots, condos, and suburban homes and yards.

Seminole Field is a very significant locality from a purely paleontological perspective. Simpson (1929) described the mammals from the site, naming six new species, one new genus, and one new subspecies. Some of these are no longer considered valid, but three are widely recognized, not just in Florida: the glyptodont Glyptotherium floridanum, the armadillo Dayspus bellus, and the llama Palaeolama mirifica. The site’s large sample of teeth of the extinct tapir Tapirus veroensis formed the primary basis for a statistics-based analysis by Simpson (1945), one of the first such studies ever done on a fossil mammal. Among the larger herbivores, the most common at Seminole Field are, in order of decreasing abundance, deer, horse, tapir, bison, and long-nosed peccary (Mylohyus fossilis), which together make up most of the recovered mammals. Interestingly, of these five, two are generally considered primarily grazers living in open habitats, the bison and horse, while the other three are considered primarily browsers living in forested habitats. The site could represent a water hole or other area where animals from different habitats mingled, or this could be an artifact of postmortem transport. The excellent preservation of the bones, including several articulated glyptodont carapaces, argues against significant transport of the fossils following death.

Birds (Wetmore, 1931) and reptiles (Brattstrom, 1954; Auffenberg, 1963; Holman, 1995) are also very abundant at Seminole Field. The site was the first in Florida to produce the giant condor-like bird Teratornis, and one of the few to record the Whopping Crane, Grus americana. Species associated with wetlands and freshwater habitats are diverse, including ducks, swan, goose, rails, anhinga, grebes, herons, and the red-winged blackbird. Amphibians and reptile species in the faunal list below that are not listed by Holman (1995) are based on specimens in the collections held by the Florida Museum of Natural History.


Auffenberg, W. 1958. Fossil turtles of the genus Terrapene in Florida. Bulletin of the Florida State Museum 3:53-92. http://ufdcweb1.uflib.ufl.edu/ufdc/?b=UF00002270

Auffenberg, W. 1963. The fossil snakes of Florida. Tulane Studies in Zoology 10:131-216. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/5716446

Brattstrom, B. H. 1954. Records of Pleistocene reptiles and amphibians from Florida. Quarterly Journal of the Florida Academy of Sciences 16:243-248.

Bullen, R. P. 1964. Artifacts, fossils, and a radiocarbon date from Seminole Field, Florida. Quarterly Journal of the Florida Academy of Sciences 26:293-303.

Cooke, W. 1926. Fossil man and Pleistocene vertebrates in Florida. American Journal of Science 12:441-452. http://www.ajsonline.org/content/s5-12/71/441.full.pdf+html

Holman, J. A. 1995. Pleistocene Amphibians and Reptiles in North America. Oxford Monographs on Geology and Geophysics No. 32. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 243 pp.

Holmes, W. W., and G. G. Simpson. 1931. Pleistocene exploration and fossil edentates in Florida. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 59:383-418. http://hdl.handle.net/2246/347

Morgan, G. S., and K. L. Seymour. 1997. Fossil history of the panther (Puma concolor) and the cheetah-like cat (Miracinonyx inexpectatus) in Florida. Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History 40(2):177-219. http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00095787/

Simpson, G. G. 1929. Pleistocene mammalian fauna of the Seminole Field, Pinellas County, Florida. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 56:561-599. http://hdl.handle.net/2246/1326

Simpson, G. G. 1945. Notes on Pleistocene and recent tapirs. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 86:33-82. http://hdl.handle.net/2246/1235

Webb, S. D. 1974. Chronology of Florida Pleistocene mammals. Pp. 5-31, in S. D. Webb (ed.), Pleistocene Mammals of Florida. University of Florida Press, Gainesville

Wetmore, A., 1931. The avifauna of the Pleistocene of Florida. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 85(2):1-41. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/8911761

Faunal List (†=extinct species; *=species no longer living in Florida)

Lepisosteus sp.

Rana sp.
Siren lacertina
Amphiuma means

Apalone ferox
Chelydra osceola
Kinosternidae, gen. & sp. indet.
Deirochelys reticularia
Pseudemys concinna and/or Pseudemys floridana
Trachemys scripta
Terrapene putnami
Terrapene carolina
Hesperotestudo crassiscutata
Hesperotestudo incisa
Gopherus polyphemus
Coluber constrictor
Scotophis alleghaniensis
Drymarchon couperi
Pituophis melanoleucas
Lampropeltis getula
Lampropeltis triangulum
Nerodia sp.
Thamnophis sp.
Farancia abacura
Agkistrodon piscivorus
Crotalus adamanteus
Alligator mississippiensis

AVES (after Wetmore, 1931 with up-dated taxonomy)
Anas carolinensis
Anas fulvigula
Anas sp.
Lophodytes cucullatus
Aythya affinis
Cygnus columbianus
Branta canadensis
Colinus virginianus
Meleagris gallopavo
Podilymbus podiceps
Podiceps auritus
Zenaida macroura
Ciconia maltha
Anhinga anhinga
Phalacrocorax auritus
Ardea alba
Ardea herodias
Egretta tricolor
Egretta caerulea
Butorides virescens
Nyctanassa violacea
Botaurus letiginosus
Plegadis sp.
Eudocimus albus
Fulica americana
Gallinula chloropus
Rallus elegans
Rallus longirostris
*Aramides cajanea
Aramus guarauna
*Grus americana
Grus canadensis
Strix varia
Cathartes aura
Coragyps atratus
*Gymnogyps californianus
Teratornis merriami
Buteo jamaicensis
Buteo lineatus
Buteo platypterus
*Geranoaetus sp.
Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Pandion haliaetus
Caracara cheriway
Corvus brachyrhyncos
Corvus ossifragus
Agelaius phoeniceus
*Quiscalus mexicanus
Quiscalus quiscula

Didelphis virginianus
Holmesina septentrionalis
Dasypus bellus
Glyptotherium floridanum
Megalonyx jeffersoni
Paramylodon harlani
Procyon lotor
Tremarctos floridanus
Canis dirus
Canis latrans
Urocyon cinereoargenteus
Mephitis mephitis
Mustela frenata
Procyon lotor
Lontra canadensis
*Panthera onca
Lynx rufus
Puma concolor
Smilodon fatalis
Scalopus aquaticus
Sciurus cf. carolinensis
Castoroides dilophidus
Erethizon cf. dorsatum
Neochoerus pinckneyi
Sigmodon hispidus
Oryzomys palustris
Synaptomys australis
Neofiber alleni
Sylvilagus palustris
Syvilagus floridanus
Tapirus veroensis
Equus fraternus
Mylohyus fossilis
Platygonus compressus
*cf. Pecari sp.
Palaeolama mirifica
Hemiauchenia macrocephala
Bison sp.
Odocoileus virginianus
Mammut americanum
Mammuthus columbi
Trichechus manatus

Authors: Richard C. Hulbert Jr.; Original Date: September 11, 2013
Last Edited by: Richard C. Hulbert Jr.; Last up-dated On: November 6, 2013

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number CSBR 1203222, Jonathan Bloch, Principal Investigator. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Text and Images Copyright © Florida Museum of Natural History 2013 (except Figures 1-3)