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How to find fossils


Sometimes a rock’s just a rock … and sometimes it’s a fossil. How can you tell the difference?

Research which fossils are common where you’ll be hiking

Stop by a museum or visitor center, call a local university’s geology department or search for a club of paleontologists (people who study fossils of plants and animals).

Find the right kind of rocks

Fossils are found in sedimentary rocks, like sandstone, limestone or shale. Sedimentary rocks look like layered pancakes.

Look for exposed rock

Check out stream cuts, bluffs, sea cliffs, road cuts or any place where bedrock is eroding.

Get low

You’ll see more fossils when you’re on your hands and knees. Use a magnifying lens. Form a “search image” in your mind. If you spotted ammonites at a nearby rock shop, think about what they looked like. Search for spirals and snail shapes. And remember that most fossils are small sea animals – not rare dinosaur bones.

Don’t take fossils

Leave fossils as you found them, so others can enjoy them, unless directed otherwise by local authorities. If you think you’ve found something unusual, make a careful note of its exact location — information that’s as important as the rock itself. A fossil’s location tells its story, where and how the animal lived.


Here are five fossils that you can look for on your next hike.


People in the Middle Ages called ammonoids “snake stones” because they thought the fossils were coiled snakes.



Scientists say most brachiopods disappeared 250 million years ago, when as much as 95 percent of ocean animals died in a mass extinction.



Algae lives inside the coral, giving it nutrients and oxygen.



This flower-shaped animal’s anus was next to its mouth.



Growing trilobites crawled out of old exoskeletons through head splits, giving their fossils “facial structures.”


26 Comments on How to find fossils

  1. i have none, but it is a fun hobby for sure

  2. fossil lover // November 3, 2009 at 8:04 pm // Reply

    I am a major fossil collector!I LOVE FOSSILS!
    Not to be a bragger,but i have 18 shark teeth,1 trilobite,1 ammonite,bryozoans,anklyosaur tooth,dino bone,dino eggshell fragment,spinosaur tooth,mososaur tooth,2 dino coprolites(don’t ask),and a few others that i forgot…

    • fossil lover // January 30, 2010 at 4:53 pm // Reply

      dude i dont get it i cant get any fossils and where did you get the trilobites???? man im confused!!!(i live in M.O.

  3. fossilhunter3 // November 1, 2009 at 12:57 pm // Reply

    I Love fossils but I’ve only found one in my life time i live in Utah and i think its a trilobite does anybody know how to find fossils in Utah if u do tell me

  4. i have found fossils in a construction site near my house. of course i had to ask purmission first… i found 3 trilobites, 8 ammonoids, and 1 shark tooth. it was a good day for me.

  5. a good place to look for fossils is were construction workers cut through a hill or mountian to build a road find one that has alot of lose rock on the ground and you might find somthing i found a few things =)

  6. Fossils as a hobby // July 31, 2009 at 5:41 am // Reply

    Finding fossils depends on many factors. First, you need to know where to luck. River banks are a good place to start. You are looking for brown rocks called conretions. They look like thick muddish colored flattened rocks. You will have to crack them with a rock hammer. Wear safety glasses always. If you put the rock on its side and smack it with a hammer, it will open easily and often there are very cool fern, plants, insects, etc. Sometimes, in existing rocks, you will find fossils—you must look very closely. Sometimes the entire rock is a fossil. Sometimes there are parts of the rock that has fossils. Look for bivalves, brachipods, clams, corals. It really depends on where you live. Plug in the words fossils on the Internt and click images. This will give you an idea of what you are looking for. Go to your state museum’s website and look for their geology department. I have visited several geologists and seen their personal collection by merely asking them questions. Research your area. Find out if the rocks in your area are of the Silurian time perios or Pennsylvanian era, etc. The websites will tell you what kind of fossils are probably in your area. Go online and see if there are rock clubs you can join in your area. They are very family oriented. They take fieldtrips to fossil-rich areas. You have to do your homework before you begin. It is a fascinating hobby. Good luck!

  7. crazygecko // July 29, 2009 at 4:20 am // Reply

    the great plians used to be underwater, so you can find fossils of ocean animals there.

  8. i find tons of fossils!!!!!!!!

    lol…….its kinda cool…. trilobites, ammonites, shark teeth……..

  9. i was down by the creek and there were rocks with circles. what kind do you soppose they are

  10. what are the kinds of fossils name that has circles?

  11. I think that is so cool i love fossils but dont have or know how to find them!!!

  12. I live on a farm in Maryland and on my farm there is lots of rocky areas. A couple years ago I was walking on my farm and near a rocky spot in the ground I saw a brown rock that had a row of different shades of purple. I thought the rock locked cool so i cept it. A year later in my den we were studying fosils and my den leader said that we could probably find fosils at our house. Then I thought of the rock i found. The next day i brought the rock to my den and it turns out that the rock was a fosil.

  13. i love fossil’s. tere cool!! LOVE! FOSSILS!!!!


  15. yaaay!

  16. Hi my name is daniel and I really wan’t to know how to find foossils?

  17. I found a weird-looking fossil. I looked it up and the nick-name for it is “Indian Bead”

    the scientific name for it is Crinoid Columnal…

    i seem to find a lot of these type fossils…

    there IS this creek…at the bottom of my driveway….is there a possibility that i’ll find some fossils there? hopefully?

  18. i like fossils

  19. fossilhunter9 // May 22, 2008 at 3:44 pm // Reply

    Its summer break! That means more time to dig for fossils! Your tips are AWSOME!

  20. fossilhunter9 // May 19, 2008 at 4:08 pm // Reply

    Really cool fossil pictures. I have a creek in the forest in my backyard I have found a few fossils there.From all the information you gave me in boyslife im going outside today to see if I can find any fossils. Where have you found fossils?


  22. I live in Wisconsin and have found lots of fossils over the years. I lived most of my life by

    the bay of Green Bay and all you have to do is go to the shore and pick up any rock and

    look at it. So many cool things can be found right under your feet.

  23. blablabla2008 // March 12, 2008 at 9:06 pm // Reply

    Where I live there’s a lot of fossils in limestone rocks. Once I found a fossil of a shell in KANSAS where there aren’t any lakes.

  24. I have a rock that looks like the heart. It seemed like it at first but then it looked like a fossil.

  25. night wing 2100 // February 23, 2008 at 5:13 pm // Reply

    the best fossil are triceratops,t-rex,ammonites,nautiliods

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