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A Primer to Fossil Hunting

Fossil hunting seems to be a mystery to most. In truth, it’s a really easy hobby to explore. Most people aren’t even aware that they have locations containing fossils near them, ready to be explored. Because it doesn’t take much to get into the fossil hunting game, it makes it a great activity for just about everyone, especially if you have kids. For children, fossil hunting provides a hands on learning environment that beats learning about fossils from an old school text book any day. When I was in elementary school, I was lucky enough to have a teacher that brought us to a local fossil pit for a field trip. We spent the day happily splitting rocks open, which quickly became a fun treasure hunt for the whole class. At that age, finding a fossil in a rock is like finding gold. Many years later, I still return to that fossil pit every once in a while for a treasure hunt.

Trilobite Fossil Eager formation
Trilobite Fossil from the Eager hills, BC, Canada

What is a Fossil?

Basically, a fossil is a piece of physical evidence of former life on earth. This includes actual fossilised remains of organisms, imprints of organisms or the marks these organisms may have left behind like foot prints.

Fossils have been found as old as 3.5 million years, but most of the ones people normally picture as fossils are newer then 600 million years, as that’s when complex life started to form on earth.

Fossils form by a process called fossilisation. Fossilisation usually happens when an organism is very quickly and permanently buried, which limits the extent of decay and disturbances from other environmental elements.

Muir Creek Fossils
Shell fossils from Muir creek, Vancouver Island, Canada

Tools Needed for Fossil Hunting

Fossil ToolsOne of the great things about making fossil hunting a hobby is that you don’t need any expensive tools to start. All you need to get going is a heavy hammer, safety chisel and safety glasses. You can, of course, even get away with using whatever type of hammer you available in your tool box and flat head screw driver. Unfortunately, you may never be able to use the screw driver for its intended purpose, after having split rocks with it. We do recommend using a safety chisel if possible as it gives you the advantage of protecting your hands from missed hammer blows. Safety glasses are mandatory, since hammering on rocks may cause bits of rock to break free and hit you in the face.

While not necessary, the following items can come in handy when fossil hunting:

1.)    Different size hammers and chisels. If you already have them available in your tool box, bring them along. They could come in handy.

2.)    A Brush … just about any kind will work, even a paint brush. You just want something that will help you remove dust and dirt from rock so you can better identify any possible fossils.

3.)     A Spray Bottle … You can you a spray bottle to help clean rocks and to help identify fossils. Wet fossils visually stand out more from the rock that in cases them when wet.

4.)    Magnifying glass … This can help you both identify smaller fossils and help you see more details on bigger ones.

5.)    Work Gloves … These not only help protect your hands from missed hammer blows, but will prevent blisters that can result from swinging a hammer continuously.

You also need to dress for the area your heading into. For most places, I would recommend hiking boots, instead of shoes. Make sure you bring lots of sun screen and water if you plan on heading out in summer.

Where to Find Fossils

Fossil locations are found all over the world. Below, we’ll provide you with a few sites to help you find locations in your area:

Fossil locations in North America (USA and Canada)

Fossil locations in the UK

Fossil locations in Europe

Fossil locations in Australia


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