Sharks and Rays
Week 2: Virtual Fossil Hunt
Introduction

Fossil hunting is all about careful observation. You must often scan a large area of rock and sediment just to find one or two small fossils.

It does get easier with practice. You start to recognize the different characteristics that distinguish fossils from their surroundings and soon you develop a good 'search image' for fossils - in other words, you get a feel for what you are looking for. For example, you have a search image in your head for coins - if you drop one you know roughly what you're looking for. Fossil hunting is similar, after a few attempts you will start to find that you recognize fossils more quickly than at first.

Here are some tips to help you search for the fossils in the following photographs and also to use if you decide to try your hand at fossil prospecting out in the field.

  • Familiarize yourself with the kinds of fossils you are likely to find in your area.
  • Consult a fossil hunting guide for your area, write to a local museum for information on sites to explore for fossils, or contact your local geologic survey for more information.
  • Look for colors that differ from the background matrix. Using color is one of the best ways to quickly spot a fossil against its background—fossil bones and teeth can be any color.
  • Be aware that different lighting conditions will affect what you notice. Look for patterns, textures, and recognizable organic shapes. Think of the shapes in three dimensions, as fossils are rarely found lying as you see them in books.
  • Get close to the surface when looking for tiny fossils.
  • Expect to find fragments, intact specimens are rare.

Now, let's get started.

Finding Fossils 1
There are three fossils in the photograph below. Can you find them?

Use the photograph below as a trial run to begin to develop your 'search image'. Take your time and slowly scan the photograph for fossils.

Sample 1

© AMNH

For a closer view of Sample 1, click on the image. The file is 278kb and will take extra download time.

If you want a few hints on what to look for and where the fossils might be in the photograph, click here.

When you're ready to check what you've found, click here.

Finding Fossils 2 and 3
Now that you've had some practice, try to find the fossils in these next two photographs. They may be more difficult to find.

Reflect on the clues that you are using as you look for the fossils. Have the clues changed as you become more practiced at finding fossils? How would you use this information to be more selective in future fossil hunts?

Sample 2

© AMNH

For a closer view of Sample 2, click on the image. The file is 300kb and will take extra download time.

If you want a few hints on what to look for and where the fossils might be in the photograph, click here.

When you're ready to check what you've found, click here.

Sample 3

© AMNH

For a closer view of Sample 3, click on the image. The file is 279kb and will take extra download time.

If you want a few hints on what to look for and where the fossils might be in the photograph, click here.

When you're ready to check what you've found, click here.

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