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.

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.”


Comments about “How to find fossils”

  1. dunners says:

    were would you look for fossils ? I’M trying to look for them but no sign of any. Could you help me?

  2. MUST READ says:

    I really need some tips on how to find fossils and where to find them!

  3. x-radiation says:

    I just found a trilobite in the appalation mts

  4. delilah says:

    finding fossils are fun to find

  5. kay says:

    Very good

  6. Q says:

    I’ve found many ocean fossils in stream cut shale rocks.

  7. shaya says:

    how to find a good fossil

  8. Moonie says:

    I found a T-Rex fore claw! :)

  9. zakksgirl says:

    Im in southwest Virginia and im tryin to find fossils..any suggestions??

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