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What’s the oldest thing in your home?

Perhaps it's an heirloom your great-great-grandparents brought to Oregon in the 1800s, or your 50- or 60-year-old wedding photo.

Actually, it just might be the rock you picked up on a trip to the Oregon coast when you were a schoolkid and have used as a paperweight or doorstop for decades.

It might be 15 million years old, according to Guy DiTorrice of Brownsville, who's known around the state as the “Oregon Fossil Guy.”

DiTorrice was reared in Rockford, Illinois, and graduated with a degree in radio and broadcast journalism from Colorado State University. He has become a self-trained expert on all things fossil.

And those things are numerous, as residents of Cambridge Terrace Assisted Living in Albany learned Wednesday afternoon.

DiTorrice became interested in fossils when he was 11 years old and began studying them, but his hobby blossomed when he moved to Newport in the 1990s. He and his wife have lived in Brownsville for about a year.

Oregonians are fortunate that they are allowed to pick up a gallon of fossils per day and three gallons per year without a permit. Those fossils cannot, however, be sold.

“Many people come to the Oregon Coast and look for agates,” DiTorrice said. “But they walk right over fossils that are millions of years old.”

Fossils come in all shapes and sizes, he added, most often appearing as rocks.

DiTorrice encouraged Cambridge residents to touch the nearly 600 pounds of display items he brought.

Fossils are merely items — bones, tree limbs, fish, clams, whales — that have died, decayed over time and have become covered with layers of minerals. Unlike footprints, their imprints are inside the rocks.

Although many fossils are found in the sand on beaches, DiTorrice said the best place to find fossils are by looking up — along sand bluffs.

“The fossils are pushed up when tectonic plates move up and push against the earth,” DiTorrice said. “The United States doesn’t move, so the plates push the silt and fossils upward.”

DiTorrice said fossils are historical in that they give scientists a glimpse of what the earth may have looked like millions of years ago. For example, the state fossil of South Dakota, the marine clam, is found primarily in oceans. South Dakota, of course, is a long way from any ocean.

“Sailors put tar on their ship’s hulls to protect the wood from marine clams,” he said. “The clams drill into softwood.”

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All of the numerous fossils on display Wednesday came from Lincoln County, DiTorrice said.

Samples ranged from petrified wood, to whale vertebrae, salmon, bill fish, snails, dolphins, whales and even seal and sea lion poop.

DiTorrice uses the skills he learned as a young man looking up information in encyclopedias for the research he did in the 1970s to prepare stories for the two talk radio stations he worked for in Eugene.

He uses a handy 8-pound rock pick to open his many prizes and demonstrated the technique with the assistance of Starr Hagn.

DiTorrice — who, appropriately, spent his 65th birthday in Fossil in eastern Oregon — gives talks for groups at Oregon State Parks, schools, libraries, gem and mineral shows, museums and more. He also conducts walking tours on public beaches.

“This is a nautilus that is traditionally found in warm weather areas such as New Zealand and Africa,” DiTorrice said, teasing his audience. “But this was found on the Oregon coast.”

Although DiTorrice lived in Colorado, where there are dinosaur fossils, he said Oregon’s landscape is “too young” to host dinosaur remnants.

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Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.

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