Mosasaur Moment

Finding Fossils

SMU Paleobotanist Bonnie Jacobs with some of the fossils in the Shuler Museum collection.

Fossils often are found by amateur paleontologists. Sometimes millions of years old, fossils can be impressions found in rocks, mineralized remains of wood, shells, teeth or bones, or — in rare cases — actual organic material.

Although a museum is the easiest place to find a fossil, where else could you look? Here are some tips:

  1. Most fossils are found in sedimentary rock. Look for rock that is stratified, especially along creek beds and hillsides.
  2. To learn where you can find sedimentary rocks in your area and how old they are, ask a science teacher, go to the library, visit a science museum, or join a geology club.
  3. They often are found right at the surface because of wind and water erosion.
  4. Look for unusual shapes and textures -- objects that are clearly different from the rock around them.
  5. If you find a fossil:
    • If the fossil looks like a bone, leave it in place and contact a professional paleontologist. Such fossils may be extremely fragile.
    • Work slowly and carefully so not to damage it while uncovering and cleaning it.
    • Handle it very carefully because fossils often are fragile.
    • Write down the exact location where you found your fossil and what type of rock it was in. If possible, take pictures of the location. This information is essential if your discovery turns out to be important.
    • A good geological field guide may prove very helpful in identifying your fossil.
    • Visit a museum and compare your find to fossils and other objects on exhibit.
    • Talk to a paleontologist at a museum or university. They may learn as much from you as you do from them.

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