Evolution title
portion of frog image
Fossil Collecting

More on endangered species | Fossil collecting | Educational standards | Other regions

photo of fossil The Code 
(adapted from The Paleontological Society Code of Fossil Collecting) 
"The sole purpose of the Society shall be, and all of its assets and earnings shall be exclusively devoted to, the advance of the science of Paleontology." --Constitution of The Paleontological Society (Article 1)
In order to pursue this goal, the Society recognizes that
  • the principal importance of fossils is for scientific, scholarly, and educational use of both professionals and amateurs;
  • the numbers of specimens of fossils vary widely but certain fossils in all taxonomic groups are rare, and that conserving and making available for study significant fossils and their contextual data is critical;
  • to leave fossils uncollected assures their degradation and ultimate loss to the scientific and educational world through natural processes of weathering and erosion.
The Society therefore adopts the following practices associated with the collection and care of fossils:
  • Prior notification will be made and permission or appropriate permits will be secured from landowners or managers of private or public lands where fossils are to be collected
  • All collections will be in compliance with federal, tribal in the case of Native American lands, state, and municipal laws and regulations applied to fossil collecting
  • The collector(s) will make every effort to have fossil specimens of unique, rare, or exceptional value to the scientific community deposited in or sold to an appropriate institution that will provide for the care and study of the fossil material

General advice on collecting

  • Be sure you have permission to collect at any site
  • Respect any and all regulations, signs, or policies posted at collection sites or expressed by private landowners
  • Wear protective gear, such as gloves, a hard hat, sturdy boots, a dust mask, and safety glasses, especially when breaking or sawing rock (or near someone else doing this)
  • Heavy equipment such as rock saws should only be operated by persons familiar with their use
  • Be careful where you reach -- snakes, spiders, or insects may be lurking below or between rocks
  • Be careful where you walk -- poison ivy and loose footing are common hazards
  • When in doubt about any activity, err on the side of safety and caution
  • When you find a fossil, take careful notes about the location of the find, the date, the position of the fossil-bearing rock, and the orientation of the fossil
  • Check that you have all tools you brought along before you leave
  • Leave each site as you found it -- all litter should be removed and any gates closed behind you

Equipment checklist (from the Rochester Academy of Science

photo of fossil
  • Knapsack and/or bucket
  • Hammers
  • Chisels
  • Eye protection
  • Gloves
  • Proper footwear (rubber boots, if collecting near water)
  • Plastic bags, with closures
  • Newspapers and aluminum foil
  • Notepad and pencil
  • Hat, sunscreen, insect repellent, water bottle, snacks
  • Water-soluble glue and paintbrush (for repairing broken fossils)


Explore Evolution online at www.pbs.org/evolution
Back to your local station's home page