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Getting Started - Reading and Learning



Some Background: I was already somewhat familiar with the idea that one had to have a license to collect certain fossils. As a child, I'd spent enough summer days at Kelly Rock Springs to find the occasional 'other fossil' in addition to the plethora of shark teeth usually found. These other fossils would get enjoyed for the afternoon and then left behind. I never found anything particularly impressive, I needed glasses but couldn't be bothered to wear them around water and thus really couldn't see anything. One day though, a friend of mine found a fantastic large tooth, mastodon or mammoth. Watching him relinquish that tooth to an adult collector with the proper license reinforced the necessity of having the appropriate licensing. Of course, at that time, I would have needed a parent to sign me up and they weren't overly interested. I couldn't blame them, they were busy.

Licensing and Legalities: I'm a chicken. I can't help but feel I should get that out of the way first. I spend hours reading before trying pretty much anything. The first thing I searched for was where to apply for a license to collect vertebrate fossils. I sent in my application and a short two weeks later received back my fossil collecting license. Here in Florida, the license is just for vertebrate fossils collected on state land. Collecting of human artifacts is prohibited. Shark teeth are thus far excluded from any licensing requirements. The license carries with it the obligation to report back all findings before renewing the license at the end of the year. Sixty days from the date of reporting, the fossil ownership reverts to me if the state decides they don't need the fossil.

Deciding where to hunt: This has been a tougher question. I will be taking my 5 year old daughter with me and feel uncomfortable taking her to some of the better fossil locations. Most of the good locations here in the state of Florida are in freshwater rivers which also happen to be the location of gators. That pretty much leaves us with beach collecting. If we join a club, perhaps one of the mine field trips which allow children. In the meantime, another option has availed itself.

Fossil hunting from the comfort of home: I'm trying not to make a nuisance of myself in the forums. I read until I think my brain is as full as it can get and then take a break. I try not to respond as I don't yet have anything of value to add to the conversation. Thanks to this forum, I realized that there aren't just regular sized fossils out there. There are tiny fossils too. In a fantastic stroke of luck, I realized that the micro-fossils I liked the best are from my home state. Better yet, the forum member collecting this material is from my hometown. How's that for convenience?

Starting out with tiny fossils: It was really difficult to resist just digging right into the bag and looking for fossils. I decided that this time I would start out organized. I ordered gem jars and tiny bags from a jewelry supply. I picked up some drug store magnifying glasses and decided to start sorting. Right away, I determined that the drug store magnifying glasses were rubbish. They made things larger, but, still blurry. I pity anyone who tries to read a newspaper with the brand I purchased. At the moment, I am picking out anything that looks sort of biological and then using my Epson V300 scanner to see if anything I've side-lined is actually a fossil. I will have to sort it all again as soon as I have a better way to view these tiny fossils.

Imaging and Identifying: I already own a DSLR, an older Canon Rebel. Unfortunately, I still only own the kit lens. As much as I would love to justify a macro lens, I think that I will start out with a Vivitar close-up lens kit. I'm hoping that with bright enough lighting I will be able to create images decent enough for identifying fossils easily. I would really like a microscope, but, the wide range of options in microscopes has left me undecided. So far, my best images have come from the Epson scanner. I'm hoping that the Vivitar lenses and better lighting will be enough to make the Canon equal to the task. I've already found quite a few neat little fossils, but, I know that my images of those fossils aren't good enough for more than loose identification.

In Conclusion: I'm twenty days into the fossil collecting hobby. I guess I shouldn't feel too bad that I don't have much of this figured out yet. I'm sure that most of this blog won't be particularly helpful to anyone. I'm mostly posting this so that a couple years from now when something hasn't worked out and I'm frustrated with the hobby I can look back and see that I'm a bit less of a dummy than I was when I started. <--- Yes, this run-on sentence is unforgivable, but, I am sick yet again and my 100+ fever is making me apathetic about grammar.


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You are off to a great start. I've been collecting for less than a year and I sure wish I would have found this forum sooner. Hope you get to feeling better.

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Looks like you have put a lot of thought into your new hobby, you will find it very rewarding and fascinating when you find fossils and this is the perfect place to get info and help if needed.

Keep it up



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I've only been doing this for 2 years, so I can relate to the feeling of being 'new' at it. Frankly that feeling persists because there is so much to learn! lol

You are off to a good start, and while I envy you your location, I also see where your companion limits your hunting areas.

Of course, I think that you have made a great decision to examine micros. ( I would, :) ) There are lots of members (and more all the time,) who will be able to help you with IDs.

It sounds like you have all the supplies. I use a magnifying glass that you can get for crafts and small electronic work. It has little adjustable alligator clips on it. That is all I have for searching, and it works great.

I look forward to seeing your finds. :)


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Thank you all! I've gone through the first gallon bag of matrix from Merritt Island and now I'm on to Peace River matrix. I'm still experimenting with photography. I picked up a Vivitar close up lens kit for my Canon EOS and that seems to be an improvement. My lighting still isn't adequate. But, I'm getting there.

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Hi Jennifer

For imaging you can use a scanner as you've already noted for relatively flat fossils. You can buy extension tubes for your camera which will give better images than a close up lens kit which I think you mean close up filters? The quality will suffer with close up filters but with extension tubes quality won't degrade but you need more light or a slower shutter speed. Use a tripod then it doesn't matter what speed the shutter fires at. Also use the Av setting on your Rebel setting a higher number. This will increase 'depth of field' or how much front to back of the fossil is sharp. With long shutter speeds you need to fire the shutter with a cable release to prevent camera shake. If you don't have one put the camera on self timer. Last thing, use manual rather than auto focus as your lens will likely 'hunt' as it tries to focus.

Best of luck!


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Great job getting rolling. As you dive in, just keep in mind that ...to the fossils, we're all "NEW"

Good luck and keep us in the loop!


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You are an awesome writer JenniferinFL!! I really enjoyed reading what was on your mind.

I think we are all alike when it comes to that being new / lost feeling. For me, I feel utterly stupid most times I come on here asking questions. I hate it but I am actually very good at not knowing anything about fossils even after a full year of trying to understand this stuff. I'm just so glad I haven't given up yet, must be because I love this little hobby!

I would just ad that you might want to consider joining a local club. You will then have the opportunity to visit collecting sites with more experienced people not to mention all that you will learn from them. And the best part is that you will be encouraged to bring your daughter along on the field trips! Imagine if you could have had that opportunity as a child, it might have changed your whole life in a wonderful way! I wish I would have gotten started in this hobby 40+ years ago instead of when I was almost 50!

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