Dinosaur Fossils, Bones, Teeth, Clues and Evidence How Dinosaurs Reproduced? Through Eggs!

How Did Dinosaur Fossils Be Found and Collected?

Feb. 22, 2022


The "dinosaur bones" you see in museums are not bones at all. Through a process of petrification, the bones of ancient animals were turned into rocks. 


What is a fossil?

A fossil is any evidence of prehistoric life that is at least 10,000 years old. The most common fossils are bones and teeth, but fossilized footprints and skin impressions also exist. Fossils have been excavated from many environments, including ancient riverbeds and lakes, caves, volcanic ash falls, and tar pits. Fossils are classified as body fossils or trace fossils. Body fossils are parts of organisms, such as bones or teeth.



How does something become a fossil?

Most ancient animals never became fossils. Their bodies were probably eaten by other creatures or worn away by wind or water. But sometimes conditions were right and their remains were preserved. The most common petrification process occurs when an animal is buried in sediment, such as sand or silt, shortly after death. Its bones are protected from decay by layers of sediment.

As its body decomposes, all the fleshy parts wear away, leaving only the hard parts, such as bones, teeth and horns. For millions of years, water from nearby rocks surrounded these hard parts, and little by little, minerals in the water replaced them. When the minerals completely replaced the organic tissue, what remained was a solid rock copy of the original specimen.



Where are fossils found?

Fossils are found almost exclusively in sedimentary rocks - rocks that form when sand, silt, mud and organic material precipitate out of water or air to form layers, which are then compacted into rock. So, especially when looking for non-avian dinosaur fossils, paleontologists look for sedimentary rock outcrops that formed during the Mesozoic (251-65.6 million years ago), a geologic period when non-avian dinosaurs survived. Scientists typically search areas with little vegetation covering the surface to make it easier to see any fossil fragments weathered from sedimentary rock layers.

To find the right Mesozoic sedimentary rock layer, paleontologists often use geological maps that show the types of rock layers that were exposed to the Earth's surface at different geological times in different areas. Once a suitable formation is found, the search for dinosaur fossils can begin with a reasonable hope of finding the species of dinosaur being sought.



How are dinosaur fossils found?

To find fossils, paleontologists travel to areas around the world where fossils may be found. To be successful, this field work requires significant funding and careful planning. Each trip is designed to try to find fossils that could provide new clues to a specific research question. Often, scientists choose their fieldwork destinations in areas where fossils have been found, but if not, geologic maps and satellite photographs are used to identify areas where the surface exposes rocks of suitable age and ancient environment.



Dinosaur fossils in the lab

Fossil preparers are highly skilled technicians who extract the fossils from the surrounding matrix, use adhesives and cementing agents to stabilize the fossils and prepare the molds and casts of the specimens.

When fossils are brought in from the field, they are encased in plaster jackets and the rock or matrix that surrounds the fossil. Fossil preparation involves cutting through the plaster jacket and removing the matrix surrounding the fossil. The matrix may be soft and friable when the sand or mud is poorly cemented, or very hard when the sediment is well cemented. Therefore, multiple tools are required to remove the matrix and stabilize the fossil.



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