The Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals of South Carolina

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Which Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals Lived in South Carolina?

saber-toothed tiger
The Saber-Toothed Tiger, a prehistoric animal of South Carolina. Wikimedia Commons

For much of its prehistory, South Carolina was a geologic blank: this state was covered by shallow oceans for most of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras, and large chunks of the Cenozoic as well. The upshot is that while no intact dinosaurs have ever been discovered in the Palmetto State, South Carolina has a rich fossil record of marine vertebrates like whales, crocodiles and fish, as well as a healthy assortment of megafauna mammals, as you can learn about by perusing the following slides. (See a list of dinosaurs and prehistoric animals discovered in each U.S. state.)

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Various Unidentified Dinosaurs

Hypacrosaurus, a typical hadrosaur. Nobu Tamura

South Carolina lay completely underwater during the Triassic and Jurassic periods, but various regions managed to stay high and dry during stretches of the Cretaceous, and were doubtless populated by various kinds of dinosaurs. Unfortunately, paleontologists have only been able to unearth scattered fossils: a couple of teeth belonging to a hadrosaur, a toe bone belonging to a raptor, and other fragmented remains that have been attributed to an unidentified genus of theropod (meat-eating dinosaur).

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Prehistoric Crocodiles

Deinosuchus, a typical prehistoric crocodile. Wikimedia Commons

Today, the alligators and crocodiles of the southern U.S. are mostly restricted to Florida--but that wasn't the case millions of years ago, during the Cenozoic Era, when the prehistoric ancestors of these toothy reptiles ranged up and down the east coast. Amateur fossil collectors have discovered the scattered bones of numerous South Carolina crocodiles; unfortunately, most of these finds are so fragmentary that they can't be attributed to any specific genus.

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Prehistoric Whales and Fish

whale skull
Part of a fossilized whale skull. Charleston Museum

Fossilized fish are a common find in the geologic sediments of South Carolina; as is the case with crocodiles, though, it can often be difficult to attribute these fossils to a specific genus. One exception is the relatively obscure Xiphiorhynchus, a prehistoric swordfish dating to the Eocene epoch (about 50 million years ago). As for whales, among the relatively obscure genera that prowled the Palmetto State's coastline millions of years ago were Eomysticetus, Micromysticetus and the aptly named Carolinacetus.

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The Woolly Mammoth

woolly mammoth
The Woolly Mammoth, a prehistoric animal of South Carolina. Royal BC Museum

The troubled history of slavery in South Carolina impinges even on this state's paleontology. In 1725, plantation owners scoffed when their slaves interpreted some fossilized teeth as belonging to a prehistoric elephant (of course, these slaves would have been familiar with elephants from their home countries in Africa). These teeth, as it turned out, were left by Woolly Mammoths, whereas the supposedly superior slave drivers assumed they had been left by Biblical "giants" drowned in the Great Flood!

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The Saber-Toothed Tiger

The Saber-Toothed Tiger, a prehistoric animal of South Carolina. Wikimedia Commons

The Giant Cement Quarry, near Harleyville, has yielded a fossil snapshot of terrestrial life in late Pleistocene South Carolina, about 400,000 years ago. The most famous megafauna mammal discovered here is Smilodon, better known as the Saber-Toothed Tiger; other genera include the American Cheetah, the Giant Ground Sloth, various squirrels, rabbits and raccoons, and even llamas and tapirs, which vanished from North America at the cusp of the modern era.