Locals work on 52-million-year-old crocodile fossil

Staff at In Stone Fossils are preparing a 13-foot-long crocodile fossil they uncovered in recent years. (GAZETTE PHOTO/Rana Jones)

KEMMERER — Stepping into the gallery of In Stone Fossils is like traveling to a world where dinosaurs roamed the earth or, rather, a world about 10 million years after the dinosaurs became extinct, in what is known as the Eocene Period. During this time, some animals evolved into larger bodies and became more diverse, with creatures such as the crocodile, as we know them today.

One of these crocodiles, called borealosuchus, died almost 52 million years ago and remained undiscovered until a group of fossil collectors stumbled upon what looked to be a bump in the ground. Dean and Stacey Sherman, along with their business partners Garey and Lisa Lacey, own In Stone Fossils in Kemmerer. They found the paramount 13-foot crocodile fossil a few years ago. It’s a rare find that Stacey Sherman said will take about 3,000 hours of preparation.

“Some share diggers on the property told us that they found a spot on the ground that looked like it could be a fossil,” Stacey said. She said the fossil is in two pieces because it was found in a natural fault line, but it is complete.

“We have three quarters of the front half prepared,” she said. “We are working on it as a team. The preservation on this crocodile is amazing. You can see every divot in the chutes.”

Stacey said, “Crocodiles are not common. We have been digging for eight years and have only found two of them, but that is considered lucky because it is a rare specimen.”

The fossil was found at the In Stone Fossil quarry on the Lewis Ranch, outside of Kemmerer, where the Shermans and Laceys also offer private fossil hunting and digging excursions. Their site is in the Green River Formation, which is a 25,000-square-mile area of Wyoming, Utah and Colorado that is celebrated for producing some of the most beautiful, intact fossils in the world.

The Green River Formation is known as the most well-preserved formation in the world for fish. Part of the incredible preservation of fossils in this area is due to the fine-grained lime muds and conditions that were just right for a rich accumulation of undisturbed fossils.

The In Stone Fossils owners plan to sell the crocodile fossil once it is completely prepared and they hope it will go to a museum.

“We like to work as closely as we can with the academic side,” Stacey said. They donate leaf and other fossils that museums might want to study.   

Other fossils in their shop include a coelodonta antiquitatis (woolly mammoth) from Russia, stingrays, plants and, of course, an assortment of fish. They also have a bird they are prepping and plan to put in a museum. The bird has taken about 300 hours to prep and has precise detail on the feathers. 

Stacey Sherman said she comes to her profession and love of fossils honestly as a fourth-generation fossil hunter. Her great-grandfather was a “rockhound,” mining jade near South Pass.

Her father is known for his rare and prized finding of what is called a “dawn horse,” which may well be the finest fossil ever produced from the Green River Formation. It is currently on display at the Smithsonian Museum as one of the early history horse lineage fossils and the most complete fossilized dawn horse ever found.

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