Digging Up Fossils

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Imagine finding something that lived on Earth millions of years ago. That is what paleontologists (pay-lee-en-TAH-le-jists) do. These scientists look for fossils. A fossil is what is left of an animal or plant that lived long ago. Many fossils are the bones of animals that were buried. Over many years, they got buried deeper, and the bones and nearby soil hardened into rock. Here is how paleontologists dig up fossils to study.

1. How do scientists know where to look for fossils? Sometimes weather wears away the soil and uncovers a fossil. Other times, builders find a fossil when they dig. That is a clue that there might be more fossils deep under the ground. So scientists use bulldozers to dig away chunks of rock and soil.

2. Workers then use shovels, drills, hammers, and chisels to get the fossils out of the ground. The scientists dig up the fossil and the rock around it in one big lump. They must be careful not to break the fossil as they dig.

3. Paleontologists have to keep careful records of the fossils they find. They measure, draw, and take pictures of the fossils. They use this information later, when they work with the fossils in their laboratories.

4. The parts of the fossil that stick out of the rock are sprayed or painted with a special glue. This helps to make the bones strong. Then the fossil and rock are wrapped in bandages covered with plaster. This protects the fossil so it will not break when it is sent to the lab.

5. The fossils are labeled and placed in crates with soft padding. These crates help protect the fossils from breaking. The crates are carefully loaded onto trucks and sent to the lab. There, scientists will use the fossils to learn about creatures of long ago.


Think About It

Do you think it is important for us to study animals that lived long ago?
Why or why not?


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  • Subjects:
    Archaeology, Paleontology and Fossils, Jobs, Careers, Work