Get Packing: Paleontology

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Season 2 of the Museum’s original video series, Shelf Life, has arrived. This year, we’re taking a look at the many expeditions to sites around the world that have helped to build our amazing collections. 

Science starts when you pack your bags, and before each episode, you’ll be able to take a look at how our researchers and scientists prepare for their travels. We also got Museum paleontologists Carl Mehling and Zac Calamari to explain why some of this gear is particularly important.



Tin Foil: This is often used as a separator in making plaster jackets, so that the plaster doesn’t stick to the fossil. We don’t use it on all fossils, though. For instance, those that are good candidates for CT scanning don’t get foil-wrapped, as the metal interferes with X-rays.  – CM

Mesh Screen: These are for screen washing, where we sort through soil for very tiny fossils, especially teeth. – ZC

Duct Tape: This is used for nearly everything: from wrapping fossils to marking things in the site to repairing damaged clothing and equipment. In a pinch, it can also be a part of your first aid kit.  – CM

Pick Ax: Rocks are hard! Getting a fossil out of the ground involves removing a lot of rock from around the specimen, so we use tools like this one to remove rock quickly. – ZC


Duffle bag surrounded by tools—shovel, tape measure, duct tape, string—pick ax highlighted.
A pick ax is an indispensable tool for paleontologists in the field. 

 First Aid Kit: Fossil collecting can be a dangerous, dirty business. Even tiny cuts can cause a lot of trouble if not cared for immediately. – CM

Field Book: This is an essential companion for keeping track of specimens, fossil localities, and other information. They often have waterproof pages, because you'll probably get rained on unless you're working in a desert.  – ZC


Duffle bag surrounded by tools—tarp, small labeled bags, picks and brushes, plastic bowl and utensils—field book highlighted.
Important notes are captured in the waterproof pages of a field book.