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Left: Roy and Louis hammer
a boulder in search of fossils at Seatown.
From left: Dee, Robert, Lu, Cornelia, Brian and Roy dressed for a quarry.
Fossil hunting can vary from a tranquil stroll on a beach in shorts and t-shirt
during the summer, to extreme physical challenges in the depths of winter.
As well as recognising the need to dress appropriately, it's worth spending
some time planning the tools needed to assist you during the trip.
The following page has been prepared to share some general advice for
effective and safe fossil hunting.
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Hard hat and high visibility jacket
Left: A brightly
coloured coat and hard hat are a good idea in cliff areas on the
coast. Right: A hard hat and high visibility
jacket are a requirement in quarries.
Hard hat: One of the most essential items of
safety equipment is a well fitted, quality hard hat. A standard
builder's hard hat is the minimum that should be worn in
areas that are liable to falling rocks, especially cliff faces and
within quarries. The example worn above-left is a climbers hard hat,
engineered with practicality in mind.
High visibility jacket: The use of a high
visibility jacket or brightly coloured clothing is recommended to
improve your chances of being quickly found if an accident were to
unfortunately take place. Within quarries their use is a legal
requirement as they increase your visibility to vehicle operators in
particular. Among the most suitable jackets include those intended
originally for cyclists (as shown), these usually incorporate high
visibility features and protect from the wind.
A strong bag and walking boots
Left: A large strong
bag are best suited for carrying tools and fossils. Right: Walking boots are generally
the best all round type of footwear.
A strong bag: When considering the type of bag to use, it's worth setting aside
one that will only be used for fossil hunting; rocks are usually
dusty or muddy and will
make a mess of anything they come in contact with. The bag will also
need to carry a range of accessories (described) which need to
be easily accessible. Among the features recommended include: brightly coloured,
a strong holder construction, back
support, strong straps, plenty of easily accessible pockets and an
optional rain cover.
Walking boots: A good pair of walking boots will
protect you from ankle sprains, provide more grip on
slippery surfaces and keep you dry in wet conditions. During your
fossil hunt you're likely to encounter a variety of terrains, so
footwear needs to be designed for a range of conditions.
Hammer and chisel
Left: A heavy
hammer and chisel including a safety handle are recommended in most
instances. Right: A group of lads hammer rocks in
a Portland quarry.
Hammer: Choosing a suitable hammer is important and will vary
depending on the individual. The hammer should
feature a wide head and well constructed handle. Before purchasing a hammer, try several
weights until you find one that feels comfortable. For individuals
with less physical strength and children (in particular) we
recommend a head weight no more than
500g; a hammer that is too heavy for the user will inhibit use and
risk repetitive strain injury.
Chisel: A chisel is required for removing fossils from the surrounding
matrix or splitting potential fossil bearing nodules. In most
instances a large chisel should be used for completing the bulk of
the work, while a smaller, more precise chisel should be used for
finer work. We recommend a chisel founded from
cold steel as this metal is especially engineered for hard
materials; anything softer won't last five minutes. The examples
(above-left) are several years old and have never been sharpened despite
frequent and heavy use.
Eye protection and hammering glove
Safety glasses are essential when hammering rocks. Right:
Gloves prevent blistering while hammering.
Safety glasses: While
hammering rocks there's a high risk of injury from rock splinters
unless the necessary eye protection is worn. Safety glasses, as shown
above, ensure any splinters are deflected away from the eyes. Eye
protection should also be worn by spectators, as splinters can
travel several metres from their origin.
Hammering glove: Extracting fossils from the
surrounding rock can be hard work, requiring several minutes or even
hours to complete in some instances. Without a protective glove the
work of recovering a difficult specimen is likely to inflict numerous
blisters on the individual. We recommend fingerless gloves comprised
of a leather underside for grip and comfort. The example shown
(above-right) is actually designed for sailing, as it needs to
protect from friction burns whilst keeping the fingers free to work
Steel point and brush
Left: Using a brush
and steel point together to extract a fragile gastropod.
Right: A steel point is often all that's needed to loosen
a fossil from the matrix.
Steel point: In some instances it's not necessary to
use a hammer and chisel to remove the matrix
surrounding the fossil. Sometimes all that's required is some
careful precision work using a steel point. This is
particularly relevant with crumbly matrix, where chiselling may
otherwise shatter a fragile fossil. The steel point can also be used
in conjunction with a liquid or gel glue (see below) as a last
resort in the field to position and consolidate loose parts of the
Brush: A brush is an essential part of a fossil collectors
toolkit, both in the field and at home. In instances where a fossil
is partially covered by loose material and dust, the brush can be
used to clean the surface in order to assess the most suitable
method of recovery. It's also useful when making
repairs in the field to clean the adjoining surfaces
before gluing. We recommend a soft, fine
bristled brush as pictured (above-left).
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Gel and liquid superglue
liquid and gel superglues should only be used as a last resort.
Right: Liquid superglue can be used to stabilise an
otherwise fragile specimen.
Superglues: Applying glue to specimens during
the fossil trip should only be undertaken as a last resort, as these
actions are almost certainly irreversible. For most of the time it's
best to undertake repairs in a controlled place i.e. at home or under
laboratory conditions. If the specimen is broken and can be safely
transported without incurring further damage, a glue should not be
used. In instances where the specimen would otherwise sustain
irreversible damage in transit, a fast setting glue provides a
practical and valuable tool.
The occasion shown above-right used a liquid superglue to solidify a
chalk paste. The paste was created from a mix of local chalk and water, and inserted into the hollow echinoid shell. In this instance the
solidified chalk paste ensured the safe extraction of the fossil (it would
otherwise have crumbled during the attempt). Other examples have included
the securing of fish scales of complete specimens recovered from
shales. Without the application of a liquid superglue onsite these extremely
fragile scales would disintegrate, or at best fall out of their natural
Fast setting superglues are available in liquid and gel form. Liquid
glues quickly penetrate cracks and the underside of loose surface material i.e. fish scales.
This is particularly useful if the specimen hasn't already fallen apart;
application is usually a preventative measure. Gels can be applied in a
localised and controlled way, they are particularly useful if the specimen
has already fallen apart and requires joining before extraction or
Please note, superglues can be potentially dangerous if handled without due care and attention. Please follow the guidelines
supplied with the glue and wear safety glasses as an added safety
Protective wrapping and elastic bands
Left: Foam sheets
are an effective material for
wrapping specimens. Right: Elastic bands
prevent the foam unravelling and can be reused, unlike sticky tape.
Foam wrap: Having experimented with various
materials to protect fossils during transportation and
storage, we find the use of foam sheets to be the most effective.
Foam sheets are commonly found in fruit boxes to prevent bruising to
apples and pears etc; they work just as well at protecting
fossils. The foam is light weight and easily carried during fossil
trips, and can be utilised quickly and easily when needed. Unlike
newspaper, foam sheets can be used a dozen or more times.
Elastic bands: When wrapping fossils with foam
sheets an elastic band (or several) will prevent it
unwrapping during transport. You're also likely to encounter
inquisitive walkers/visitors or fellow fossil hunters interested in
seeing your finds; it's much less
complicated to unwrap the fossil if it's been secured with elastic
bands! Elastic bands also have the added benefit that they can be
used in all weather conditions.
Padded compartment box and small bags
Left: A plastic compartment
box with cotton wool for padding. Right: Small sealable
plastic bags can be used independently or with the compartment box.
Padded compartment box: For small, fragile specimens
it's a good idea to carry a small compartment box containing cotton wool.
The addition of cotton wool ensures the specimens are held in place during
transportation, without this they'd be at heighted risk of damage. It's
worth noting that while cotton wool can be a benefit, in some instances it
may also pose a risk to the specimen. Some specimens with fragile surface
details may be susceptible to damage during the removal of strands of cotton
wool that becomes caught, extra care should be taken if this occurs. The use
of small plastic bags can be an added benefit for extra fragile specimens.
Small plastic bags: The use of small sealable bags is
especially beneficial for isolating specimens from each other and reducing
the risk of damage. For fragile specimens a bag ensures any loose fragments
are contained and can be reaffixed at home or within the laboratory. As
described above, a bag can be used in conjunction with cotton wool within a
compartment box to prevent any stands of cotton fibre become tangled around
Other useful items
Left: A small hand lens is
useful for observing the finer details of specimens in the field and at
home. Right: A scale of some sort is useful when taking
Hand lens: A hand lens enables the fossil hunter to enjoy the finer
details of the specimens they find. It's often remarkable how well preserved
some of the most intricate structures can be. We recommend
a lens with x10 magnification that folds away into a metal casing to protect
it from damage.
Scale: When photographing fossils in situ or at
home, it's recommended to include a common object for scale.
Traditionally a black and white, laminated cm scale (above-right) is
used. For informal purposes your hand, a hammer, chisel, mobile
phone or any other commonly recognised object can be used. This will
help experts identify your finds when sending images electronically.
Join us on a fossil hunt
Left: A birthday party with
a twist - fossil hunting at
Right: A family hold their prized ammonite at Beachy Head.
Discovering Fossils guided fossil hunts reveal evidence of life that
existed millions of years ago. Whether it's your first time fossil
hunting or you're looking to expand your subject knowledge, our fossil
hunts provide an enjoyable and educational experience for all. To find