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Complete Guide to Fossil Hunting as a Hobby




fossil of a trex

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It’s fascinating how animals and plant species have evolved. Dinosaurs and mammoths and many other, sometimes hard to believe stuff, from the past are all interesting, right?

Well, what if I told you there was a way to learn more about all of this in your spare time with no extra qualifications needed?

By taking up a hobby in fossil hunting you can discover all there is to know about earth’s history and the many lifeforms that became extinct millions of years ago.

If that sounds appealing to you, then you are right where you should be. This guide will walk you through all you need to know about a fossil hunting hobby.

What Is Fossil Hunting?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this hobby, you will want to know what fossil hunting is all about. Well, fossil hunting is collecting the remains and traces of plants and animals that were found on Earth long ago.

These fossils include bones, skeletons, shells, or DNA remnants like hair from different species of living things that existed on the Earth.

The Earth as we know it now was not always the same. Many years ago, dinosaurs, woolly rhinoceros, short-faced bears, mammoths, and several other now-extinct animals walked the earth. Remains of these animals can still be found today. 

This is what fossil hunting is all about, finding evidence of life that no longer exists. Finding these fossils is an important part of defining the history of the earth. There is an actual science called paleontology that deals with studying these fossils. 

So How Does Fossil Hunting Differ from Paleontology? 

Well, strictly speaking, paleontology involves a more scientific approach to discovering these fossils and it goes deeper into using science to analyze the remains. It looks into specific fossils and uses scientific methods to find out what period they are from. 

Fossil hunting on the other hand is a more amateur form of science. You don’t need any fancy science degree to hunt for fossils.

This hobby involves both the physical hunt and collection. In some cases, you will travel to different places and dig up the fossils.

But that’s not always the case, you can still be a fossil hunter even if you don’t like digging dirt or chiseling rocks. With technology, you can hunt for fossils to buy online from anywhere in the world.

paleontology books and some fossil
Study Materials for Paleontology

Who Can Do Fossil Hunting?

Fossil hunting works for anyone with an interest in discovery. It’s open to any gender and there’s plenty of age-appropriate hunting activities even for kids. You don’t need any special qualifications to become a fossil hunter.

It works for individuals as well as groups. You can even turn your hobby into a family vacation or an excursion with friends. 

Have fun and games while you scour the beach for treasures or dive in search of long-buried traces of life.

What Makes Fossil Hunting A Great Hobby?

Glad you asked. Apart from keeping in great shape and inspiring the history of the earth, there are so many other reasons for becoming a hunter of fossils. Here are some of the reasons why fossil hunting is great.

Take part in science

Being a fossil hunter is an important part of the science of paleontology. What’s so great is that you get to do it even without a college degree. So if you want to be a scientist but college is not an option, this hobby is perfect for you.

Hobby fossil hunters make great contributions to science right alongside professional paleontologists. For example, fossil hunters like Mary Anning discovered the plesiosaur and Ichthyosaurus.

A walk back in time

It’s one thing seeing prehistoric animals in movies or looking at skeletons in the museum, it’s a whole other thing to hold them in the palm of your hand.

Not only is it fascinating and thrilling but it is also a wonderful way to take a walk into the past. 

If you have ever imagined yourself with a time machine, that was able to go back into time, then fossil hunting is the perfect hobby for you. It takes you on a walk down uncharted and undiscovered territory.

You get to see first-hand evidence of animals that perhaps could only have been imaginable for you in the movies.

Fascinating discoveries

Dinosaurs were not the only species that went extinct millions of years ago. There are several other species such as Bison, Giant Ground Sloths that have not been in existence for years. All of these are out there to be discovered. 

These are just examples of known pre-historic animals but imagine how many more we don’t know about that could be out there just waiting for you to discover them.

Collection building

By putting in the time and effort, you can steadily build a collection of valuable fossils.

Much like collecting rare art, you can create a priceless collection for your home or have it displayed at a museum. 

fossil collection
Collection of various Fossils

Stimulating hobby

Fossil hunting is good brain food. It will keep your mind stimulated.

Oftentimes, it requires detailed planning and exceptional patience to find fossils and establish a collection.

This helps to keep your mind engaged so even as you grow older you give yourself a higher chance of keeping your mind intact.

Building friendships

As you connect with other fossil hunters in your expeditions or on forums, you become part of a larger community.

You will likely end up forming lasting friendships during excursions with other hunters.

Excuse to travel

Your love for discovery will be satisfied in more ways than one. You will find an excuse to travel far and wide in search of a new hunt.

In the process, you will see the beauty of many different places, get new experiences, meet new people, and explore different cultures.

If you think about it, you will get a hobby within a hobby so you’ll be sure to always find something interesting.

How to Get Started as A Fossil Hunter

As with anything new, you might be wondering where to start with your new hobby. Here’s what you need to know about getting started as a fossil hunter.

Read some books

The first step to any successful hunting expedition is to know what it is you’re looking for. So, it would help if you can start by reading some books on fossil hunting and paleontology.

This will help you discover the different types of fossils that you come across.

That is not to say that you must limit yourself to those discoveries made by other people in the past. This is just to give you a guide so you can get into it more quickly.

fossils found in dorset coast england
Fossils Found on the Jurassic Coast of West Dorset England

Do lots of research

Because there are many different types of species, in several places you will need to have an idea of what can be found in various places.

Having a basic understanding of the geography and the type of fossils in a particular place will aid your search. You can use search engines to discover more about your locality or other places of interest. 

Look around for museums with fossils on display so you can get a knack of what it is you will be looking for. If you can’t find any to look at up close, you may have to settle for pictures on the internet.

A basic google search will give you loads of different images to check out. 

Join fossil forums or groups

There are many other people interested in fossil hunting. Therefore, a great first step would be for you to join other like-minded people to share ideas and discussions on fossil related topics.

Coming together with other people who have done it before will save you from making newbie mistakes. You will get the hang of things much faster because you have people who you can ask.

There are many clubs and societies for fossils in various states.

Narrow down your search

As a beginner hunter, before you go out in search of fossils, it’s important to zero in your search.

You have to make up your mind on the type of fossil you’re are going after first. For example, you may decide to start with shark teeth to warm up to the tricks of the trade before you go hunting for dinosaur bones. 

This does not mean that you can’t expand your search, but it’s important to focus on one niche first to build your skills and then broaden your search once you get the hang of things. 

tools for digging up fossil

What You Need to Get Started

To get started as a fossil hunter you need to buy the right equipment to use on your hunts. 

You will require some digging tools like shovels, trowels, and a screen to lift the sand off your findings. Once you find something, a field chart will come in handy to help you identify your findings.

If the fossils are hidden under rocks, then a hammer specially made for fossil hunting is necessary to chip away at the rock carefully. Any odd hammer may break or be too hard that you may destroy your specimen along with the rock.

You may also need a wedge and a chisel to carefully split the rock. 

A magnifying glass is another useful tool that will help you observe things more clearly in the field including the final details on rocks or specimens that you find.

Remember to carry a mesh or canvas bag with you to store your discoveries.

To protect yourself from the elements, remember to always pack sunscreen and repellant as appropriate.

A good hat is also a top priority. Depending on where you will be exploring it might also be useful to get a hard hat.

You should also buy a good pair of gloves to protect your hands from sharp objects when you are digging. 

And the final must-have piece of gear is a good pair of non-slip waterproof, steel toe shoes. Remember when you go out there, you’re in the wild so you need to protect yourself.  You will not have much fun if you get hurt. 

A first aid kit may also be a great idea. There’s no reason for alarm but have one just in case of a few ouchies and scrapes, especially if you are outing with the kids.

It’s important to investigate the area you will be hunting before you set out. The reason being the dust from some rocks or sand may cause irritation and lung problems. Therefore, in some cases, you might need a mask to cover your mouth and nose. 

Always pack some food and water when you go out, it’s easy to lose time when you are absorbed with your discoveries. 

Where Do I Hunt for Fossils? 

You’ll be happy to know that you don’t have to go far to find fossils. Prehistoric life forms were not limited to any particular place on the earth. Therefore, you are bound to find one species or another in any part of the world. 

You will have to do some research though on the different species that are specific to your area just to get a heads up on what you can expect to find. 

You can find some helpful information about fossil hunting sites. You can find plenty of other useful resources online.   

You can also use some offline resources to identify spots to start hunting. Find a geological map to give you a better idea of where to go.

Let me explain, this is not your usual map, it shows the map of the bedrock and will usually tell you which period and if any fossils can be found there. You can find these on the internet or visit your local authorities to ask for one. 

Once you get your hands on a bedrock map, you can now match the place on the bedrock map to a road map. It’s easier to use google maps to do this. Once you find your spot on the map you can set your location and start hunting. It will be easier this way and you save on time. 

Remember to follow the unwritten rules of the fossil hunting community always leave something for others. While building a collection is essential, a major part of the thrill is in the hunt.

If you are going to exhaust all the finds in an area, there’s not going to be much fun left.

ammonite fossils
Ammonite Fossils

Important Tips for Beginner Fossil Hunters 

Commit time

Being a fossil hunter, you need to commit some time. Chances are you’re not going to make a radical discovery on your first try.

You’re also going to spend a lot of time researching and because of that, rushing through might have horrible outcomes for your discoveries.

If you are impatient, you could miss important stuff that you would have unearthed or worse still completely ruin the fossils. 

Legal constraints

Some sites may be off-limits for hunting and in some instances, you need a license to be able to go out for the dig.

Also, some places won’t allow you to take your discoveries home, they have to be handed over to proper authorities like museums.

For that reason, you must do a little digging into the legal requirements in the area where you want to start.

How to identify a find

When you take your new-found discoveries home, you will want to know how to identify what you found. Here’s how.

The first step is to do a google search and compare the images you see with your find. You may want to try an advanced search to get more specific results. 

If you still don’t get a match, then submit a picture of your finding to fossil forums that help with identification to get opinions from other hunters and paleontologists. You can also find some pictures on fossil hunting sites to compare with.

Another great way of identifying your finds when you are out hunting is using an app like the Digital Atlas of Ancient Life. This is faster and will help you to quickly tell if what you have found is a hit or a miss, rather than having to wait until you get home.

Tips for Buying Fossils

Fossil hunting is still a good hobby for you if you prefer to be a clean, indoor hunter. But you will have to know a few things because some sellers have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Here’s what you need to look out for when you’re buying fossils.

Do your due diligence

Before you make a purchase, be sure to be well-read about the unique features of these skeletons and their different habitats so you know the questions to ask.

Look for the finer details

Before you buy any piece, you need to carefully assess it for any intricate details like growth rings or sutures in the skull.

These are very difficult to imitate so they will help you to see the real from the fake.

Know the price 

Get a general price guide so you don’t end up paying too much for an item. Knowing the price will also help you to avoid fake fossils.

Sadly, some fake fossil hunters are selling bogus fossils to unsuspecting collectors. However, if you have an idea of the fair price, you will know to avoid the cheap knock offs. 

To Sum Up

There it is – all you need to get started with your new hobby.

A fossil hunting hobby is an amazing way to connect with the past and reap the many benefits of the outdoors and history.

It’s a great hobby for everyone. Use this guide to get started and enjoy your new-found hobby.

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