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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.”


116 Comments on How to find fossils

  1. bobby joe jr. // January 23, 2008 at 8:19 pm // Reply

    Fossils are sweet!!!

  2. I think it is a good article that teaches people a lot on a whole bunch of different types of fossils and what they came from.

  3. i am jacob i think the corals fossil is cool

  4. asd3333333333333333333333333333 // January 23, 2008 at 3:43 pm // Reply

    in a rock

  5. I took a fossil from my mom’s collection to the Museum of Natural History for a special day they have in March so you can tell if what you have is old and they told me it was from a pre-Jurassic period.

  6. fossals are cool

  7. those are so cool

  8. Fossils are so cool because they were dinosauses!

  9. i have a GIANT collection of rocks.

  10. I think that the fossils are very cool on the pictures that they show them here. I have seen a fossil before they were very cool the fossil that I saw was a rat it was killed but we just left it alone and let it do it’s stages that it needs to do before it turne’s into fossil fuel. I do not know why I like them so much but thatb is just the way I am.

    I wonder what food they ate before they died.

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