Fossil hobby a lifelong passion

July 22, 2002|by TARA REILLY

HANCOCK - Joe Gambino's oldest fossil dates back 3.6 billion years.

The sedimentary rock - a geological fossil - is one of about 8,000 ancient pieces the 71-year-old Berkeley County resident has in his collection.

Part of Gambino's collection was on display Saturday and Sunday at the Sideling Hill Exhibit Center just west of Hancock.

During a presentation at the center Sunday, Gambino held up a palm-sized piece of fossilized amber with a mummified fly trapped inside.

He said the amber, which is transparent and golden, came from tree sap.

"Prior to 'Jurassic Park,' you couldn't give amber away. Now, you can't afford to pay for it," Gambino said.

The popular movie was based on the premise that an ancient mosquito trapped in amber could recreate dinosaurs.

Gambino said he has been collecting fossils for 67 years, a hobby that began when his father took him to look for Native American artifacts when he was 5 years old.


Gambino said he found a white arrowhead, which he still has.

"From that point on I was hooked," he said.

Since then Gambino, who has a background in biology and chemistry, has searched for fossils in every state except Hawaii, he said.

States in the west, northwest and east have some of the best places to dig for fossils, he said.

Gambino also said, however, that many good fossil sites are being disrupted as a result of growth.

His collection ranges from vertebrae of a megalodon shark, which is an ancestor of the great white shark, and a 50-million-year-old clam to fossilized ferns, coral and teeth of animals.

"I've got more dental tools than a practicing dentist," Gambino said.

According to, a megalodon was an ancient shark that may have been 40-feet long or more with teeth the size of a person's hand.

The megalodon, which means giant tooth, lived from 1.6 million to 25 million years ago, according to the site.

From June 2001 to June of this year, Gambino said he has given 120 free presentations, mainly to schools and civic groups. He also donates fossils for classroom use, he said.

Sideling Hill is a geologic education center that showcases a sedimentary rock formation known as syncline. Within the syncline are numerous fossil-bearing rocks.

It is open seven days a week and is six miles west of Hancock on Interstate 68. For more information, call 301-678-5442.

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