Collecting Dinosaur Fossils
Paleontologists conduct field trips and expeditions all around the world to find fossils. Often times these expeditions go to very remote places in the world and so require considerable funding and planning for the fossil collecting expedition to be successful. These trips are usually designed to find fossils that will shed new light on particular area of research. Many fossil collecting trips go to areas where fossils have already been found in the past. Other times expeditions to collect fossils go to new regions where other evidence suggests that fossils will be found. For example, geologic maps and satellite photos may be used to identify areas where rocks of the correct age and type are are exposed on the surface. Sometimes fossils are just found by accident, sometimes by non-scientists, who will then notify a paleontologist about the find.
Once in an area where there may be fossils, a paleontologist will prospect for fossils. This involves slowly hiking across ridges and through ravines of the area, looking for fragments of fossils on the ground or coming out from the surface. It is not uncommon for a paleontologist to covers five to ten miles in a day while prospecting for fossils. If a fossil fragment is found, the fossil collector brushes away loose dirt around the area to see if more fossils can be found buried in the ground. If fossil specimens are found in the ground then quarrying is initiated to collect the fossils. Usually awls, rock hammers, chisels, and other tools are used to remove the rock or dirt covering the fossil to see how much of the animal is still present. When a fossil bone is found in the ground, special glue is often applied to the cracks and fractures to hold the fossil together as the fossil bone is further exposed. If it is determined that a substantial part of the animal’s skeleton is present then, a trench is dug around the group of fossilized bones to free the fossil skeleton from the sides of the earth.
Once a trench has been dug around the bones, the fossilized skeleton is essentially sitting on a low pedestal of earth or rock. Now a covering of damp toilet paper is placed over the fossil bones to protect them before a layer of plaster bandages are wrapped around the fossils creating a hard cast that will protect the fossil skeleton during shipping. Once the cast hardens and excavation below the fossil bones is completed, the fossil skeleton enclosed in its harden plaster cast is packed into a crate for shipment back to the museum.