Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published October 29th 2010
When I was a kid I really wanted to be like Indiana Jones. In my case the appeal wasn't the bull whip, or sassy chat and wry attitude towards personal safety. It was the practical way that Jones went about discovering history's truths. By basically digging things up, looking at them under a microscope and then uncovering their secrets in old books. Luckily for me that strand of Jones' antics was the most accessible and I became an avid fossil hunter.
I've never uncovered a really valuable fossil myself but they're out there - so this is a past time that you could potentially make a bit of money off. And if you discover something no one else has seen before you could name it after yourself and become famous and be remembered though the ages. Not many afternoon's labours can promise that sort of outcome.
Realistically it's unlikely that you'll uncover anything other than common specimens, but the thrill of it is largely in the discovery - an attitude Indiana shares. If you choose your location well and bring the right gear then the chances of coming back with your own ancient treasure are actually just as good as his are.
Your eyes are your most important fossil hunting equipment. Beyond that a pocket knife is a good multi-purpose tool, useful for both scraping dirt from promising rock surfaces and for levering smaller stones. It's a good idea to bring your camera to record where you find your fossils, and something protective to wrap your discoveries in. If you're hunting on soft grounds then a trowel and a brush may also be useful. If you become a serious fossil hunter you might want to get yourself a fossil hammer to chip fossils out of larger rocks, but if it's your first time stick with your pocket knife and eagle eyes.
Where to hunt:
The best places to hunt for fossils is in a fossil bed: which are areas known to contain many fossils. These can be craggy areas where erosion has started to reveal the layers of rock the fossils formed in on the surface; or places where there was once a lot of water: dried marshes or river beds, or cliffs by the ocean - where there's an especially good chance of finding ammonites, which are common snail like fossils. Fossil beds can also be found in volcanic areas. Volcanic ash is an excellent preserver and many plants and animals caught in it become wonderfully detailed fossils.
If you're hunting in a known fossil bed you might want to do a bit of research first about what you're looking for and what sort of rocks you're likely to find them in. Tip: Fossils only form in some rocks, such as sandstone and limestone. Then follow the lead of more experienced looking fossil hunters, if there are some around.
As well as using the internet to pre-discover your fossils, it can be useful to visit a natural history museum in the area you're planning to hunt in. There you'll get to see some of the best local specimens.
In the UK, the Jurassic Coast is known for its wealth of fossils. There are fossil beds, where there are known to be exposed fossils, around Dorset and Lyme Regis, but there are fossils waiting to be discovered all up and down this section of coast, some of them just under the surface. The best places to look for fossils are where there have been recent rock falls around the base of cliffs, because here fresh rock will have been exposed. The shoreline, especially as the tide is going out, is also another good place for fossil hunting – look for exposed clay, or places where there are lots of smaller stones and shells. The rule here is that if it's in a small rock already broken from the cliff you're welcome to take it away with you, but if it's still in the cliff then you're not welcome to chip it out.
There are hundreds of other good places to fossil hunt in the UK and you can find many of them on the UK Fossils Network website. They'll also sell you one for as little as 15p if you don't end up finding your own.
In the US the more western states are best for fossil hunting expeditions. There are major beds around Clayton Lake, in New Mexico, and along the Northern Carolina coast west of Calistoga, and in the Wellsville Mountains in Utah. In New Mexico you're more likely to find trace fossils like dinosaur footprints, and along the Northern Carolina coast you're more likely to find petrified wood and trilobites.
Like the US, Australia has fossil beds in every state. There are notable beds in Dinosaur Cove and Dinosaur Dreaming and Lakes Entrance in Victoria, in the Flinders Ranges and on Kangaroo Island in South Australia and at Lake Mungo in New South Wales. Because it's such a large and varied country when it comes to fossils it's a good idea to get in touch with the who will be able to advise on local fossil hunting.
Tip: In places where the climate is wet you're better off doing your fossil hunting in winter 'cause the rain and bad weather speed up erosion.
If you have any questions the UK Fossil Network forum is a good place to ask them, even if you don't live in the UK. They've got forum members from all over the world, so it's the perfect place to do some of your background research. If only Indiana Jones had such a helpful resource to tap into.
I had the same dream. I used to watch Indiana Jones over and over as well as Jurrasic Park and me and my brother would always try and find dinasour bones and other fossils, or even real dinasours.
I think it would be so fun visiting those places and being a part of something so adventurous, especially if you have children and they are into that. They would be so into it that you could have a whole afternoon to relax.
By Lil Uni Girl - senior reviewer Saturday, 1st of January @ 04:37 am
It's really easy - you should definitely try it out. Just get some info about where to look in your area and you're away. Even as a little kid I found some nice fossils, so it can't have been that hard...