If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

How are dinosaur fossils discovered and collected?

To find fossils, paleontologists conduct short field trips and longer expeditions to regions around the world where fossils are likely to be found. To be successful, this fieldwork requires considerable funding and careful planning. Each trip is designed to try and find fossils that will shed new light on particular research questions. Commonly, fossils have already been found in the region where the fieldwork is conducted, but if not, geologic maps and satellite photos are used to identify areas where rocks of the right age and ancient environment are exposed on the surface.


To find fossils, paleontologists first carry out an operation called prospecting, which involves slowly hiking across ridges and through ravines, while keeping one's eyes focused on the ground in hopes of finding fragments of fossils weathering out on the surface. Commonly, one covers 5-10 miles in a day of prospecting. Once a fossil fragment is found, the collector brushes away the loose dirt on the surface to see if more of the specimen is buried in the ground. If so, quarrying is initiated to collect the fossil. First, awls, rock hammers, chisels, and other tools are used to remove the rock covering the bones to see how much of the skeleton is present. As bone is exposed, special glue is applied to the cracks and fractures to hold the fossil together.
Next, a trench is dug around the bones so that they essentially sit on a low pedestal. A covering of damp toilet paper is placed over the bones before a layer of plaster bandages is wrapped around the bones to create a hard cast, just like a doctor does around a broken bone. Once the cast hardens, excavating the bone is completed, and the fossil in its cast is packed for shipment back to the museum.

Want to join the conversation?

  • blobby green style avatar for user AshleyE
    If all this is done then how did scientists find the fossils of dinosaurs in Antarctica, like I don't think they were specifically looking for dinosaur fossils there, so they most likely didn't have proper materials,so what did they do then?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user