Finding fossils can be a highly rewarding hobby for those looking to uncover remnants of the past. There is no need to travel across the globe to do so. There are plenty of local opportunities that await you if you know the right places to look. You are also not required to be a qualified paleontologist, but it helps to know some of the basics.

Know Your Rocks

There are rocks everywhere, but not every type is ideal for fossil hunting. Most fossils are found within sedimentary rock. This particular type of rock forms when small particles and minerals, also known as sediment, accumulate over the course of millions of years. During the course of this formation, plants or other living organisms may become trapped within this sediment that eventually turn into fossils waiting to be discovered. Where sedimentary rock is found depends on the type you are trying to find. Sandstone is a type of sedimentary rock that forms from particles of sand and is typically located in sandy environments including beaches or deserts. Shale rock is mainly composed of particles of mud and clay. Outcrops are excellent places to find fossils. These are visible exposures of old rocks due to various environmental factors including wind or water erosion. It may be helpful to research areas where these types of sedimentary rocks are common in your area before going out to explore to save yourself some time. You can also research designated fossil sites that are open to the public within your area.

Use the Right Tools

Carrying the right tools can be extremely helpful when searching for fossils, although they are not necessary to be successful. Many fossil hunters use toilet paper to wrap their fossils. You could also use newspaper or zip-lock bags. Some chisels or hammers can be very useful for fossils deeply embedded within rocks. It also a good idea to wear protective eyewear when chiseling rocks. A magnifying glass may be helpful for finding small fossils. Many people also carry a notebook in order to log their findings. Some locations, particularly geologically significant regions, do not authorize the use of hammers or other fossil hunting tools. You should always make sure that it is acceptable to hunt for fossils within the area before doing so. Even though the most public property is open and available, it may be closed to fossil hunting for various reasons. To avoid getting a ticket, you should contact a representative beforehand.

Best Practices for Fossil Hunting

Shale rock typically consists of many fine layers that break off easily. To begin searching for fossils, place your chisel on the flat top near the edge and tap lightly with the hammer. It is best to chisel along the same line around the edge so that you are chiseling away layer by layer. Never chisel in the center of the rock. You should be slowly breaking off thin slabs of shale and never large chunks. If you don’t find any fossils toward the surface, keep working on the rock because fossils can be deeply embedded. This is why practicing good patience is very beneficial for projects such as these. More success is found by thoroughly searching one spot rather than constantly moving around from one spot to the next.

If you are hunting at a beach, most fossils can be found loosely among the stones. Often times wet rocks can better depict the patterns and markings of a fossil, so try searching within clusters of rocks by the tide. It is a good practice to turn over stones in order to view them from every angle. You should also look for stones with marks or lines near the center. When carefully split, stones with these markings can sometimes reveal an ammonite.

Having an eye for detail is a valuable trait for fossil hunting. You should be looking for anything that looks like it has a pattern or shape. Fossils can sometimes be as small as your fingernail or impartial, which can easily be missed. The most important thing to remember is to stay safe when searching for fossils. Rocks can be unstable or slippery, so you should avoid hammering or climbing cliffs. Always tell someone what you are doing and when you’re expecting to leave.

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