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Forest for the trees.

Over the years I've taken hundreds of fossil collectors into the field. From the "first time collectors" to experienced paleontologists. After watching them for years I've made an interesting discovery. The best collectors are not always the most experienced, or educated, ones. It seems to be a natural ability. Some people seem to be able to pick out a fossil, even when it's the same color as the material it's in. Others will stare at the same spot and see nothing. I've found that people with artistic ability seem to be able to pick out the subtle contrasts and shapes better. I prefer to think of them as people with "Abstract" minds. For those who don't fall into this category, don't give up hope. There are simple ways to improve your collecting skills. Here are four. 1. Plan your trips with the weather. Collecting in limestone quarries is not easy. On bright days the fossils and matrix will be almost the same color. The glare will make your eye pupils contract until it's almost impossible to see. A good rain will decrease the glare as well as making bone and teeth become darker than the matrix. Some people wear sunglasses to help with the glare. Wearing "Blue Blockers" can increase your eyes contrast ability in limestone quarries. In other areas they will hurt. A little experimenting will show when to use them. 2. Use the sun's shadow. It's amazing that few people ever turn around and look behind them when collecting. If you're walking, with the sun behind you, there's less chance that a fossil will show a shadow if it's protruding slightly from the ground. Turning in the opposite direction will show the side of the fossil with a shadow. My technique is to turn around and look after every ten steps. 3. Examine pieces of bone carefully. Most collectors don't have the experience to tell what a scrap of bone came from. When they find a small bone scrap they ignore, or discard, it. I look at every scrap for worn or sharp edges. Sharp edges could indicate a fresh break from the complete bone. If it came from a creek bank I look up to where it might have fallen from. If in a creek bed you can try looking up stream. Not forgetting to check the walls at the same time. If in a quarry I look at the tracks from the bulldozer. They will show which direction the bone was pushed from. Finding additional fragments can lead you back to the source. 4. If you're with a group set a time that everyone will meet to show what they've found. Seeing an object improves the minds ability to recognize it later. I try to get my group together midway through the collecting period for a "Show and Tell". It really works! I've added a few pictures of a group of Late Eocene dugongs I found in a local limestone quarry. Research showed that at least three adults and two subadults had died at the same time. I removed almost a hundred bones from an area measuring 25 by 25 feet. Interestingly, no skull material was found. I discovered the site by following small scrapes of freshly broken bones back to the source 300 feet away. I spent several days carrying buckets of water to pour on the limestone blocks. It was the only way to make the bone stand out from the limestone.
Location Berkeley County, South Carolina, USA

Date Added11/3/2006

Limestone quarries can be hard on your eyes. Most of the fossils are the same color as the limestone. There are two layers represented here. Can you tell them apart in the bright sunshine?
There are two vertebrates in this limestone block. They only showed up after I wet the limestone with water.
The same two associated vertebrates after removal.
Some of the bones from five individuals. Most of the bones were covered in a thick layer of oysters. They probably died in shallow water. One theory is that the were stranded when the tide went out. Land scavengers could have carried off the skulls.

The Heat is On
The Heat is On
The Heat is On
The Heat is On





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