How to Prepare and Preserve Fossils

A Beginner’s Guide: Preparing and Preserving Fossils You Have Found

Fossils are captivating remnants of the ancient past that offer insights into the history of life on Earth. If you are fortunate enough to discover a fossil, whether it be a bone, shell, or plant impression, it is essential to handle it with care to ensure its preservation for future study and enjoyment. In this article, we will guide you through the process of preparing and preserving fossils you have found, allowing you to cherish these remarkable windows into our planet’s distant past.

  1. Document the Discovery:
    Before attempting to prepare or preserve a fossil, it is crucial to document its original position and surrounding context. Take detailed notes, photographs, and sketches to record the exact location, orientation, and any associated geological information. This documentation will provide valuable data for future scientific analysis.
  2. Safety Precautions:
    Ensure you are equipped with the right safety gear before handling or preparing fossils. Wearing safety glasses, gloves, and a dust mask is recommended to protect yourself from potential hazards, such as sharp edges or dust particles.
  3. Tools for Fossil Preparation:
    Depending on the type and condition of the fossil, you may require a variety of tools. Common tools used for fossil preparation include: a. Brushes: Soft-bristled brushes, such as toothbrushes or artist brushes, are ideal for gently removing loose sediment or dirt from the fossil’s surface. b. Dental Picks: Dental picks or similar tools with fine tips are useful for carefully removing matrix (rock or sediment) surrounding the fossil, ensuring precision and minimizing the risk of damage. c. Chisels and Hammers: These tools are suitable for larger, more robust fossils or those encased in hard rock. Exercise caution and use light, controlled taps to avoid accidental damage. d. Air Abrasion Tools: For delicate or intricate fossils, an air scribe or air abrasive unit can be employed. These tools use compressed air to remove matrix without harming the fossil.
  4. Cleaning and Removing Matrix:
    Begin by using a brush to remove loose sediment or debris from the fossil’s surface. Avoid excessive force or scrubbing, as this could damage the fossil. Proceed to gently remove the matrix surrounding the fossil using dental picks or small chisels. Take your time and work slowly, ensuring each movement is precise and controlled.
  5. Consolidation and Stabilization:
    Fossils, especially those that have become fragile over time, may require consolidation or stabilization to prevent further deterioration. A consolidant, such as a diluted adhesive, can be applied to strengthen the fossil’s structure. Consult with professionals or experts in fossil preservation for guidance on the appropriate consolidant to use and its application technique.
  6. Display and Storage:
    Once the fossil is prepared and stabilized, it’s essential to display and store it appropriately. Consider mounting the fossil on a sturdy backing material or in a display case to protect it from accidental damage. Ensure the display location has a controlled environment with stable temperature and humidity levels, as extreme fluctuations can harm the fossil.

For long-term storage, wrap the fossil in acid-free tissue or bubble wrap to protect it from physical damage. Store it in a sturdy container, ideally made of acid-free materials, and place it in a dry and stable environment away from direct sunlight.

Finding a fossil is an exciting experience, and properly preparing and preserving it ensures that its scientific and educational value endures. By following the steps outlined in this guide and seeking advice from experts if needed, you can take part in preserving Earth’s ancient history while enjoying the beauty and wonder of these remarkable relics. Remember, the careful handling and conservation of fossils guarantee that future generations will also have the opportunity to marvel at the mysteries of our planet’s past.