Bentonite (2022) by Canadian Fossil Discovery CentreCanadian Fossil Discovery Centre
The first step is knowing where to look. Fossils are usually found in sedimentary rock such as shale, limestone, and sandstone. In the Morden area, many fossils are found in shale, which has conveniently been exposed by later glacial activity.
Dr. Nicholls in the Field (2022) by Canadian Fossil Discovery CentreCanadian Fossil Discovery Centre
Sometimes, fossils are found during mining operations. Many of the CFDC's fossils were found during bentonite mining in the 1970s-1980s. When a machine struck a fossil, the operators would pause their work so museum staff and students could quickly excavate the specimen.
If erosion has exposed the right area, fossils can also be found on the surface. However, this is quite rare!
Getting to the Fossils
Most of the time, we need to use machines or tools to remove the overburden - soil that has built up on the area where fossils are found.
Machinery is also used to dig pits or trenches to help palaeontologists identify which areas might contain fossils.
Once a suitable area has been identified, pickaxes, shovels, rakes, and other large tools are used to clear away the soil and uncover the fossils. Smaller tools such as trowels and brushes are used to get at the finer details. This step is performed in layers so that we can tell which fossils are associated, and which time period they are from.
Context is Important
Before anything is removed, the site is mapped and notes are made about the surrounding area. This is one of the most important steps, because it provides so much information about where and how animals lived. If you find a fossil yourself, please write down everything you can!
Measuring Tools (2022) by Canadian Fossil Discovery CentreCanadian Fossil Discovery Centre
Paleontologists use a variety of tools to map the area where fossils are found, including both low-tech tools like a grid and tape measure, and high-tech tools like GPS.
Field Diagram (2022) by Canadian Fossil Discovery CentreCanadian Fossil Discovery Centre
Maps and diagrams help paleontologists understand how different fossils are related to each other and their surroundings. That's why both fossils and geological features are included in this diagram.
Each specimen is also photographed in-situ (in place) to help us remember how the fossils were arranged.
Removing Small Fossils
If a fossil is small enough, it can be removed by hand, labelled, and bagged on-site.
Removing Large Fossils
Larger fossils need to be removed in sections but kept together. The first step is to create a trench around the entire area.
The Field Jacket (2022) by Canadian Fossil Discovery CentreCanadian Fossil Discovery Centre
Creating a Field Jacket
Next, strips of burlap and plaster are used to create a 'field jacket' to cover the fossil. Some larger specimens may require more than one field jacket, and can even take multiple seasons to uncover and remove.
Removing the Field Jacket
Once the plaster has dried, the field jacket can safely be removed, either by hand...
...or using a machine
Heavy machinery is used when a field jacket is too heavy to lift by hand. The plaster protects the fragile fossil during transportation.
Preparation and Analysis
Once the fossils reach the museum, they are cleaned, prepared, analyzed, and catalogued.
Research (2022) by Canadian Fossil Discovery CentreCanadian Fossil Discovery Centre
Next, palaeontologists and other researchers come from all over the world to help us understand more about the fossils we have excavated.
Bruce the Mosasaur (2022) by Canadian Fossil Discovery CentreCanadian Fossil Discovery Centre
In addition to research, many of the fossils that palaeontologists and enthusiasts excavate are also displayed at the CFDC to help the public learn more about this fascinating period in Manitoba's prehistory.
Field Station (2022) by Canadian Fossil Discovery CentreCanadian Fossil Discovery Centre
What will we find next?
The CFDC is opening a new field station in 2023, allowing us to continue finding new fossils every year. We've only scratched the surface so far. Head to our website and find out how you can help!
Find out how you can help us excavate fossils: Discover Fossils