Fossils can commonly be found weathered out of the rock that they were preserved in, lying loose at the base of a cliff, in a stream bed, or along a beach. In order for a fossil to have scientific value, however, it should be released from a rock exposure of the rock by the collector. This usually requires hammers and chisels. You also need eye protection (pieces of rock as well as shrapnel from tools may go flying, from your work or even from someone else working in the area), good gloves to protect your hands, and proper footwear to protect your feet. Other things you should have include a collecting bag or bucket, newspaper (and even aluminum foil) for wrapping delicate specimens, and other items like a hat, sun-screen, insect repellent, and water. A small bottle of water-soluble glue is also a good idea, for temporary repairs should a specimen break in the field. Finally, careful notes should be taken about such things as the locality at which you are collecting, the date, the weather conditions (things look different in different lighting), the position of the fossil-bearing rock in the outcrop, and even the orientation of the fossil. This information is in many cases more important than an accurate identification.

  • knapsack and/or bucket
  • hammer(s) (Estwing recommended brand)
  • chisels
  • eye protection
  • gloves
  • proper footwear (Wellingtons if collecting near water)
  • ziplock baggies
  • newspapers and aluminum foil
  • notepad and pencil
  • hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, water bottle, snacks
  • small Elmer's glue and paintbrush

Safety and Good Stewardship

Some things to be aware of when you venture out to collect fossils: be careful where you walk, know what poison ivy looks like, stay away from people with hammers (don't crowd other collectors), and avoid overhangs and potential rockfalls. Finding that great fossil specimen is never as important as keeping your health. Remember to respect private property. Ask permission where appropriate, and do not ignore "No Trespassing" signs. Be sure to practice good stewardship, whether or not the property is private. Leave the area as you found it, don't leave trash. There have been too many instances of fossil collecting sites becoming off-limits because of the careless acts of a few collectors.

Fossil Section Introduction