On September 25, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources spoke with Tim O’Brien of Copemish who claims he discovered a 93-pound coral fossil from Lake Michigan. According to The Grand Rapids Press, O’Brien said that he found what locals call a Petoskey stone near the town of Northport and brought it ashore on September 22. Petoskey stones are prized by tourists since they have attractive patterns of linked circles and taken a bright shine when polished. They are usually found along beaches in Michigan, especially along the northeastern and northwestern shores of the state that are bathed by Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Since Michigan state law prohibits the removal of more than 25 pounds of rocks and minerals per year by any one person per year from state-owned lands, O’Brien could face sanctions. Violation of the law can mean a civil fine of up to $500. The bottoms of the Great Lakes are also subject to the law. A spokesman for the DNR said that his agency wants to speak with the rock hunter to discuss the rock.
 
 The Petoskey stone was named the state stone of Michigan's by the state legislature decades ago.state stone. It's considered a fossilized coral. When wet or polished, the stone’s distinctive pattern emerges. Otherwise, Petoskey stones are difficult to recognize at first by those hunting them on pebble-strewn beaches in some of the most scenic parts of a state known for its soaring timber and pristine lakes. Rock hunters can be seen stooped over on Michigan’s beaches seeking the beloved stones. Many are turned into trinkets and jewelry and are widely available to the tourist trade. Petoskey stone hunting is firmly a tradition for visitors to northern Michigan, and Michiganders in general.
 
Petoskey stone found by Tim O'Brien (Facebook)
 
O’Brien, who resides in Manistee County, Michigan, found the stone about 10 days ago while hunting rocks with a group of friends. He found it buried in the sand underwater in Lake Michigan and several feet away from the water’s edge. The ecstatic O’Brien could not retrieve the large stone at the time and returned a few days later. At that time, he had difficulty finding it again. On a third try, on September 22 when he returned with garden tools, O’Brien and a friend were finally able to prise the stone from the bottom. They then carried the 92-pound treasure about one mile along a beach and brought it home.
 
Much like a fisherman who is loath to reveal the location of a favorite fishing hole, O’Brien was circumspect about saying exactly where he found the fossil. He limited himself to say, “I found it near Northport." He posted the find on his Facebook page. 
 
Petoskey stones are a fossil record of corals that lived 350 million years ago during the Devonian period. When polished or wet, the stones reveal intricate interlinked circles or hexagons that were actually the mouths of the ancient organisms that built the antediluvian reefs that now give up the stones so prized by Michiganders and tourishs. At that time, warm shallow seas covered the the whole area.
 
The Devonian geologic period and system of the Paleozoic Era spanned the end of the Silurian Period, about 419.2 million to 3.2 million years ago to the beginning of the Carboniferous Period, about 358.9 million years ago. That period saw very important changes in life on land. For example, vascular plants began spreading across dry land and formed forests which covered whole continents. By the middle of the period, groups of plants had evolved leaves and true roots, and by the end of the period the first seed-bearing plants appeared. Various sorts of land arthropods also became established. In the sea, fish reached substantial diversity, earning the Devonian the sobriquet: "The Age of Fish." The first ray-finned and lobe-finned bony fish appeared, while a now extinct class of armored fish called placoderms began dominating almost every known aquatic environment. The geography of the time was notable for the supercontinent of Gondwana to the south, the continent of Siberia to the north, and the early formation of the small continent of Euramerica in between.
 
 
Conditions during the Devonian were quite different from today. There was less oxygen in the atmosphere was lower than modern times, while carbon-dioxide levels were 8 times the levels reached before the beginning of the Indusrial Age. Temperatures were generally warmer.
 
The Petoskey stone’s name is attributed to Antoine Carre, a French-Canadian fur trapper who was adopted by the Ottawa people and made a chief in the 1700s. Carre married a local woman, who bore them a son along the banks of the Kalamazoo River. According to legend, when the son rose following the boy’s birth, Carre named him Petosegay: a word that means “rising sun.” The name Petoskey is also borne by a town not far from the place where Petoskey stones are found.
 
Comment on O’Brien’s discovery has been mixed. His Facebook page has gotten thousands of hits as the story of the find has made national news. Some people say that the fossil should have remained where O’Brien found it. The State of Michigan may side with those critics. According to Michigan law:
 
Parks and Recreation Areas - State Land Rules
 
(hh) Remove from state-owned land more than the aggregate total weight of 25 pounds, per individual per year of any rock, mineral specimen (exclusive of any gold bearing material), or invertebrate fossil for individual or non-commerical hobby use.
 
PENALTY, MCL 324.504 (Excerpt) (History: 1994, Act 451, Eff. March 30,1995; -Am 1996, Act 171, Imd. Eff. April 18, 1996.) A person who violates a rule,or an order is responsible for a state civil infraction and may be ordered to pay a civil fine of not more than $500.00
 
How the law itself is applied, and sanctions enforced, is an issue that remains to be seen. O’Brien did contact the DNR, according to reports.
 
 
A polished Petoskey pebble showing the characteristic interlacing of the fossil coral organisms
 
O’Brien plans to put his prize in his front yard, saying “It’s just kind of a conversation piece.” However, his stone is not the largest Petoskey stone yet found. The largest yet known was found in 1999 at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Park. It weighed more than a tone and measured 50 by 20 inches. Experts say that there may be much largest Petoskey stones yet to be found since they are fossils of large coral formations. These were broken up through thousands of years of glaciation that ground stones to powder and sand in some cases, but turned large stones into smaller ones with rounded shapes that are found along Michigan’s sunny lakeshore beaches.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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