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Fossil Collecting/Preservation and Documentation

Always record field notes, such as the locality, types of rock, and fossils seen in a sturdy notebook using waterproof ink. A long tape measure is useful to record the levels of the beds in which you find fossils, and a camera may also be useful for taking photographs of fossils in situ. Detailed field notes are an essential part of your records, both from the point of view of keeping an accurate account of your collecting activities, and as an indispensable aid in the subsequent identification of your finds. Your field notes may in time be the only reference to a collecting area that later becomes destroyed by erosion or by the spread of urban areas. It often helps to make sketches of the site, particularly if the fossils are found in certain distinct bands or horizons within the rocks. Accurate notes will enable you to readily identify such horizons on your return trips.

Having collected fossils it is essential that they are adequately protected from damage while they are being transported home. Each fossil or piece of rock containing a fossil should be carefully wrapped. Here newspaper, paper towels, sticky tape, polythene bags and an assortment of small boxes or tins will all prove to be useful.

The more fragile specimens will need the greatest protection, such as packing them in a tin or box lined with a soft material such as cotton or wool.

All specimens collected should be labeled in the field with the details of the locality where they were found. The easiest and safest way to do this is to write the details in your field notebook along with a number for each specimen, a corresponding number can then be written on the wrapping used for each specimen or on a ticket or scrap of paper included with the wrapping.

If you do not label the specimens as they are collected and wrapped there is a distinct danger that errors will be made in the localities from which the fossils were collected, especially if they are not unpacked for some time after they were collected. The value of any fossil that does not have accurate locality details is greatly reduced.

Maps and a compass/clinometer or GPS receiver will assist you in finding fossil locations and assist you in recording your field notes. Occasionally, large fragile specimens may need to be surrounded and supported using a jacket of plaster before their removal from the rock. This will protect the fossil and prevent it from shattering. In this case clean the fossil and expose as much of it as possible. Then cover the exposed surface with a separator (wet paper or plastic film is suitable), followed by layers of plaster bandage. Once the plaster has hardened you can lift the fossil out of the surrounding rock, and then repeat the plastering process on the underside of the specimen.