Jump to content

A Beginner's Guide To Fossil Hunting


Recommended Posts

A Beginner's Guide to Fossil Hunting

So you think you want to fossil hunt? Start your journey on the internet.

1. Do a search for fossil websites and fossil documents for your state, region, locality. You should be able to come up with PDF's of local fossils with pictures and often a “basics” guide for your area. Hopefully you will find fairly local websites that will have pictures of local fossils and perhaps even where to find them.

Familiarize yourself with what you are likely to find, and remember that the fossils with probably be in matrix (rock) and you will only find a small portion peeking out. Check to see if you have any local museums, etc. that have fossil collections for public viewing - check them out.

This will also teach you what kind of fossil hunting you will be doing – beach combing, sifting for sharks teeth, breaking shale, or walking road cuts and dry washes.

post-9628-0-57941200-1377977295_thumb.jpg

2. Do an internet search for the GEOLOGIC MAPS for your area. Most of the time, these will be online through a government or university office. If you can't find them on the internet, call or stop by your local government office that functions for “planning and zoning” or perhaps “environmental services”. These maps are usually accessed by well drillers and companies that install sewer systems. Ask them for the geologic bedrock maps for your area. Many times they will either just give them to you or there is a nominal charge.

These maps will give you the names of the bedrock formations in your area, and if you are lucky, will even tell you which bedrock is in which time period (Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, etc.), if it is fossiliferous or not and maybe even what fossils have been found there. If not, you can simply research the names of the formations and find that information out yourself.

If you are interested in geology as well, go to your local library or search the internet for geology books for your area that are written for the lay person, a good series in the United States is the “Roadside Geology for...”. But your geologic formation maps will give you what you need to know for fossil hunting.

3. Find a road map of your area (Google Maps) and approximately match up the road map with the fossiliferous areas shown on the geologic map. You now have a general area to hunt and know what fossils you are looking for.

If you are handy with the internet, go to Google Earth and start your search with a virtual drive of the roads you think will be most productive. You should be able to see the road cuts, rock formations, dry creek beds, creeks and rivers, beaches, etc. along the road as well as whether or not there is potentially safe parking near the site. If you can master this, it will save you hours of time and $ in gas!

4. Do a search for local rock, mineral and fossil clubs in your area. Mentoring from experienced members is invaluable! And they may even have field trips and digs that you can attend! While you are at it, see if there are any fossil parks near you.

5. Your first hunt - what do you need? Something to carry your fossils in and drinking water. Tip: take an empty bottle, fill it half full with water and freeze it. Before you leave fill the rest with water and you will have ice cold water for several hours. Everything depends on your area and comfort level and if you are hunting alone or with children. A bag, pail or backpack with a handle are all good for carrying your finds. Bring something to drink to stay hydrated and something to eat if desired. A sieve if looking for sharks' teeth, etc. in creeks and a hammer to knock away excess matrix if desired.

post-9628-0-74838700-1377977233_thumb.jpg

If you are taking children, make it FUN! Depending on the age of the child, they can actually do all the research for you and plan the trip! Think picnic with kids. Drinks and finger food. They should have their own bags. A magnifying glass would be good. Depending on your area and the time of year, sunscreen, insect repellant, TP, band aids, water shoes, whatever is appropriate. And personally, I recommend a whistle for every member of the party in case you get separated – 3 short blasts for an emergency (I'm lost, sprained ankle, I'm scared.) and 1 if you found a patch of fossils - they will often be in groups. Practice with the whistles before the hunt, not in the car as you are going to the hunt. :-D

Bring home anything that looks like it may be a fossil, you just never know. The first time I took my granddaughter out on a hunt the very first thing she found I couldn't identify – rock or fossil? It didn't look like anything I had ever found before, but it was interesting. I ended up posting it in the Fossil ID section and it turned out to be a stunning example of a fairly rare for this area Ordovician Halysites Coral (Chain Coral)! Beginner's luck! And she was hooked!

post-9628-0-31747100-1377977421_thumb.jpg

6. Identifying your fossils. If you followed this format, you have probably downloaded several PDFs of common fossils for your area. Compare what you have found to the images. Still not sure? Get as close as possible and then do a Google Advanced Image search here (just bookmark it):

http://www.google.com/advanced_image_search?hl=en

When you see an image that looks close to your find, click on it and go to the site where it was found and read a little about it. Not all images will be accurate!

Still not sure? Take a good quality picture of it from several sides (Please use a ruler, tape measure, coin, whatever, for size approximation.) and post it in the Fossil ID section of thefossilforum.com, along with...

post-9628-0-96989500-1377977517_thumb.jpg

a. Approximately where you found it, a park, a part of the state, whatever.

b. What you think the geologic formation is – that's what your map is for, and

c. The time period (Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Mississippian, etc.) you think it is from.

Then wait patiently and see if someone is able to identify it for you. Please wait at least 24 hours before you thank the people who have tried to identify it for you, because the first IDs may not be correct and not all members get on every day.

It took me almost a year to figure this out – slow learner!

I hope this helps you jump start your own Adventures Fossil Hunting!

Bev :-D

Okay Guys & Gals, I just compressed everything we had on that recent beginner's topic into one post, added a few things and some pictures. I tried to make it generic enough so that anyone in the world could get the drift on beginners' basics and whatever kind of fossils they are hunting. :)

  • I found this Informative 30
Link to post
Share on other sites

Good job! We'll pin this for ease of reference by all future fossilers :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Good job, Bev.

I think there is more to consider - you might want to do a 2nd section covering the care/storage/curation of a fossil collection - the most important part of which is to record as precisely as possible where each fossil was found, in the off-chance that any of them might be of scientific importance! The exact info need not be revealed on TFF in the ID section or whatever (just approximately, as you say), but it might be needed by the scientist studying it so it should be recorded and kept with the fossils and/or in a notebook. The location info is more important than the genus/species name. I think people should be able to do what they want with their fossils but should be encouraged to submit something for study if it turns out to be important and donate it to the nearest museum that handles fossils. I recently took a couple ladies (beginners) up my local hill and I neglected to ask them their purpose in looking for fossils, whether 'decorative' or 'scientific', if I can categorize it that way (in other words, to have a curio to put on the bathroom windowsill or to start a scientific/educational collection). They went home with some rare bivalves and one of them glued one onto the matrix where it didn't belong, which is fine if you just want a conversation piece but those of us who are more into the science of it will tend to frown on anything that alters a fossil unnaturally, whether polishing or painting or....

I have no regrets in my learning experience as a fossil collector except the damage I have done to certain fossils because of my ignorance. I will PM you my 'fossil collecting tips' that I distributed at the local rockhound club and you can decide whether to use any of the info.

Edited by Wrangellian
  • I found this Informative 5
Link to post
Share on other sites

You're welcome - here's more..

OK, this is a version slightly edited by myself and Bev:

FOSSIL COLLECTING TIPS learned from personal experience or gleaned from others on the Forum

• Take a camera to get pics of fossils in situ in case you are unable to get them out, and to take pics of the site. If I have to leave a fossil behind and come back later to get it, a camera or GPS or some other method of recording the location can help.
• Pay attention to which types of fossil are common and which ones are hard to find. Even bits and pieces of the rare ones are worth collecting, for scientific reasons at least - especially little bits of vertebrate material which is usually more rare than anything. It might surprise you how much a scientist can sometimes tell from a little scrap.
• Don't trim the matrix from your fossil in the field. Wait until you get it home. Pieces lost in the field are harder to relocate than at home, and the cracks always go through the fossil rather than around it! If hammer/chisel risk breaking the fossil, stabilize any cracks with glue and use a rock saw to trim it (no oil lubrication - only water or dry-cutting).
• Refrain from preparing ('prepping') your good fossils with crude tools and no experience. Hammer and chisel are not prepping tools in most cases. Even dental picks are mostly insufficient for our local shale fossils. You don't want to lose any bits that flake off and you don't want to mar the surface detail. If it requires an expensive airscribe or air abrasive unit, don't settle for 'second best' - put it off until you can get the right equipment, or get someone else to do it. Practice on common specimens.
• There is nothing wrong with a generous amount of matrix surrounding a fossil. The matrix can tell you stuff about the fossil's paleo-environment - gives a little snapshot of the seafloor or river delta/etc, and sometimes there are associated bits that you might have missed seeing during collecting. If there are 2 or more fossils close together, it makes a more attractive and interesting specimen if you can get them out on one piece to retain this association. Of course this often takes more work, but it's often worth it.
• If it breaks during extraction, bring home all the pieces and glue them together there. I have heard of collectors reassembling fossils from 90-odd pieces. Parts of shell can sometimes come off with the matrix and not everyone notices.
• Even in the field, glue sometimes has to be applied and allowed to dry before any excavation can start. This way you avoid having to reassemble the jigsaw puzzle at home.
• Glues to use range from cyanoacrylate Crazy Glue/PaleoBond - dries fast when time is of the essence (use only when rock is completely dry) - to WeldBond white glue diluted with water - easier and safer to use but dries slower. Using a syringe or Fineline applicator I can precision-apply into cracks rather than dousing the whole fossil. Scientists and collectors alike usually want it looking as natural as possible. Use TP to dab off the excess glue from the surface until it does not look shiny - If it looks shiny when wet, it will look shiny when dry (=unnatural and difficult to photograph).
• The more experienced collectors/preparators usually use adhesives like Butvar, Vinac and Paraloid that are dissolved in acetone. Varying the amount of acetone yields varying consistencies. These are supposed to be archival grade and are reversible with the addition of acetone if you need to undo a mistake. PaleoBond is also available in different consistencies for different jobs (eg. reassembly or stabilization).
• Be careful of soaking certain types of fossil/matrix in water after they have dried for a while in your house - our local crumbly shale can disintegrate when wetted! A fossil should be cleaned once and then stored indoors. Repeated washing can weather a detailed fossil, esp. one made of a calcite mineral, though it may be unnoticeable without magnification. The whole purpose of collecting fossils is to rescue them from the effects of weathering outdoors!
• Flat-file or sturdy map-type cabinets with a series of shallow drawers are best for tidy specimen storage and access. Avoid non-archival storage materials that might decay and emit chemicals detrimental to fossils (do a search of the forum for this). Humidity can also be a problem for certain fossils/minerals, esp. pyrite. Like any collectable, fossils are safest when kept out of extremes of heat/cold, direct sunlight and damp/humidity.
• Always record the location of your finds. Be as specific and unambiguous as possible (GPS coordinates are ideal). A fossil with no location data is little more than a paper weight. Location! Location! Location!
• Also try to include any specific observations that might be important to science, eg. how the fossil was oriented, and what it was found in association with... Other pertinent info to put on a label are the date and collector's name. The Formation name (stratigraphic info - which rock layer it came from), if you know it, is useful, but don't worry about the fossil's name or numerical age as these can be determined later (based partly on the location data) and they can change with scientific revision.
• Apply a unique catalog number/code onto each specimen with an archival pen or paint and enter that number into a notebook followed by the specimen's collection data.
• Rare and scientifically important specimens should be donated to museums sooner or later. If you find something you know is rare and especially if you cannot identify it, show it to an expert and consider donating it to a museum. Specimens that are described in scientific papers (eg. new species) are routinely donated to recognized institutions, so that scientists can revisit the specimen if they want to.

Disclaimer: Recommendations are subject to change with learning experience!

(Anyone notice a mistake, let me know)

Edited by Wrangellian
  • I found this Informative 10
Link to post
Share on other sites

I've had some questions about "how to" Google Earth.

Here is one tutorial:

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=google+earth+tutorials+youtube&qpvt=google+earth+tutorials+youtube&FORM=VDRE#view=detail&mid=7CA1BA315367C971ABA87CA1BA315367C971ABA8

However, everyone has different learning styles, so if you do a search for "Google Earth Tutorials" you will find a bunch of them and one might just suit you!

Happy Hunting!

Bev :)

  • I found this Informative 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

This may be better in a different topic, but here is what I mean about trimming fossils. I came home with this piece this summer, it nearly fills a whole beer flat. Should it trim it and how?

post-4372-0-87191700-1378706750_thumb.jpg

Some people might trim it down about this far, not leaving much around the leaf.

post-4372-0-85010000-1378706753_thumb.jpg

But if I leave it as is, I see a much broader picture of the seabed in that particular spot. I might still trim it down somehow, as it takes up a lot of space, and the branch isn't too important (indeterminate ID and lots like it from that site), but I don't want to trim it down too far.

  • I found this Informative 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

I found this stone with what looks like a dragon fly fossil in it ,and this shell, totally in tact fossil hard as a rock, wonder if an old pear is in there ?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Wonderful thank you so much!

You are so welcome, Ecleland!

Here is something else that might interest beginners in getting your fossils IDed...

http://www.thefossilforum.com/index.php?/topic/41017-fossil-photography-board-0/

If you run across posts that would be good for beginners, perhaps adding them to this "Beginner's Guide" would be a good idea.

Bev :)

Edited by Bev
Link to post
Share on other sites

Here is a post on an inexpensive rolling specimen cart:

http://www.thefossilforum.com/index.php?/topic/40468-30-rolling-specimen-cart/#entry448860

And here is one for a < $4 magnifying visor and < $2 cleaning brushes.

http://www.thefossilforum.com/index.php?/topic/38597-4-headlamp-and-2-brushes/?hl=%2Bmagnifying+%2Bvisor

Edited by Bev
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...

what are large - half of a fossil ammonites worth ? They are from Lake Texoma.

Please help anyone ? I can take a pic and post it somehow soon.

Thanks,

Karen

Link to post
Share on other sites

what are large - half of a fossil ammonites worth ? They are from Lake Texoma.

Please help anyone ? I can take a pic and post it somehow soon.

Thanks,

Karen

Hello ksdulaney. :)

We can't/don't really put value to fossils here on the forum, ... making an evaluation of that via 2 dimensional pictures is not feasible.

The best way to place a value on your fossils is to check ebay for similar items, and see what they are going for.

Regards,

  • I found this Informative 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Excellent thread…I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve goggled ( beginners guide to fossil hunting books ) trust me it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Don’t forget to add the all-important (personal protection equipment / safety and clothing) to the guide to suit your surroundings.

Regards,

Darren.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Excellent reference Darren! Thank You! Bev :)

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

If you are interested in trilobites in particular, here is a thread that has a lot of interesting info:

http://www.thefossilforum.com/index.php?/topic/41799-what-referencesresources-do-you-use-to-id-trilo-fragments/#entry455956

And here is some excellent advice from Missourian on that thread:

"My method in the past has been to look through the appropriate 'Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology' volumes and write down every genus that is in the right age range. I also note the locations given for each genus. The states listed indicate which types are most likely to be found. There's a fair chance that a nearby college library will have a set of these Treatise volumes. Now that you have a list of genera, you can research them in various publications.

I also comb the publications of my local state geological survey as well as those in nearby states. These titles are likely listed online. I look for information on stratigraphic units as well as fossil types. If you're lucky, you may even find a study on the trilobites of some formation. Also, look through reference lists at the end of any publication that you are able to read. There always seems to be at least a couple references that look promising.

I would research the taxonomy of trilobites (or whichever fossil) to figure out the anatomical differences. With enough knowledge and practice, you'll get to the point where you can spot certain types -- or have a good idea -- with just a look at a partial piece."

Edited by Bev
  • I found this Informative 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 months later...
  • 2 weeks later...
  • 4 months later...

I just found this link tonight that looks like a great print-off for quick reference marine fossils, and for taking notes.

http://people.hofstra.edu/j_b_bennington/137notes/pdfs/Lab1_invert_animal_phyla.pdf

(...except for the live specimen, Michael Ruse on page 5...lol).

Edited by Roadrunner
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 5 months later...

Thanks Momothman! Just trying to create what I wish I would have found when I started. :-D

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...