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Diggin' For Dinosaurs - Hero or Villain?

Updated on March 30, 2010

What if you do stumble across the fossil find of a lifetime? Then what do you do?

Well, if you play your cards right, you get to be a hero. Exercise the most difficult virtue of all: forbearance. Take pictures of it. Don't take anything. Don't disturb it. Don't try to collect it. Then call a responsible palaeontologists or a government agency. Finally, before you leave the site, make sure you can find it again. Note the location on a map, and leave a marker (a flag, a stake, a pile of stones) to show where it is.

If all that sounds like common sense, so much the better. Don't steal, do it right, and you won't get into trouble. And you may get a lot of credit.

If you want to go looking for dinosaur bones, it's best to join an organized expedition. Let experts plan your route, provide food, equipment, and instruction, and arrange for permits and permission. In any case, don't go alone; for safety and company, bring friends. Also bring plenty of water, sun protection, and a topographic map.

Beyond that, these are some tools of the trade for dinosaur fossil hunters:

  • Four-wheel-drive vehicle with spare tires
  • Notebooks and pens or pencils for making field notes
  • Camera and film to document a discovery
  • Heavy work gloves and knee pads to spare your skin
  • Picks, shovels, and rock hammers for breaking ground
  • Chisels, awls, and trowels for excavating
  • Whisk brooms, paint brushes, and dental picks for exposing and cleaning fossils
  • Felt markers for numbering fossils
  • Old newspapers and tissue paper for wrapping fossils
  • Specimen bags (lock-top plastic bags are fine) for sorting fossils

Since the mid-1990s, a slew of museums, research scientists, and institutions have invited the paying public to experience firsthand what was once primarily reserved for professionals. Now many organizations offer everything from half-day dinosaur digs to two-week expeditions in the United States, Canada, and overseas. While some are designed for kids, others are totally authentic field experiences focused around a specific research project. So whether you are the parent of a budding palaeontologists, a perpetual student, or an amateur collector, there is a program for you. Here's a sampling:

The Wyoming Dinosaur Center, in Thermopolis, offers day digs at Warm Springs Ranch for people short on time, interest, or patience. Warm Springs Ranch sits on the Morrison Formation, deposited during the Jurassic. Most of the more than 1,000 bones already found here come from sauropods, long-necked giants with elephantine bodies, such as Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, and Diplodocus.

The Day Digs Program starts at 8 a.m. with a half-hour orientation and van drive to the ranch. Overlooking picturesque red hills at the northern end of the Wind River Canyon, diggers spend the day working alongside scientists in one of several bone beds. There are breaks for a sack lunch and for fossil finders to log their names in the center's bone registry. The field day officially ends at 4:30 p.m. Those who grow weary earlier may return to the world-class museum or visit the preparation lab, where technicians remove bone from rock for display.

Continued in: Diggin' For Dinosaurs - Join The Dig

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    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto

      Whenever I've gone digging (and I was much younger) I could barely get out of bed the next morning!

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Interesting hub. This sounds like a lot of fun but I bet you feel it at the end of the day.