Fossil collecting: methods

So you want to go fossil collecting and want to know what you need? For the most part, just a few simple tools are required, along with a bit of perseverance. But exactly what you need depends in part on what you hope to find.

Tools and methods

To begin with, the following tool kit will be suitable:

  • hand lens
  • awl or similar pointed tool
  • geology hammer and cold chisel (an ordinary hammer and an old chisel will do)
  • brush
  • PVA glue
  • old newspapers
  • toilet paper
  • tape
  • notebook
  • pencil
  • day pack
  • safety goggles

With these tools you will be able to deal adequately and responsibly with most fossils you are likely to find. The brush is used to clear debris obscuring your fossil. The awl, geology hammer and chisel are useful for extracting the fossil from the rock. Glue is essential for putting the fossil back together if it is broken. Diluted with water, PVA glue can be used to harden up a fragile fossil before removing it from the ground. This is done by soaking the fossil and allowing the glue to dry. Newspapers, toilet paper (for delicate specimens), and tape are used to wrap up your fossils once they are out of the ground and have been stabilised.

The notebook and pencil are in some ways the most essential items of all, because they are used to record the information associated with the fossil. Most important of all is the locality where the fossil was found. Without this information, a fossil is a mere curio. Be as precise as possible when recording this information. Try and mark the locality on a map. A road map will do, but more detailed topographic maps are better. A description of the rocks is necessary. If you have a geological map of the area and locate your position on it, you can often work out which rock formation you collected your fossil from. To be as sure as possible, carefully read the description of the formation, which is usually given on a geological map or the accompanying notes. The age of a rock formation is generally indicated on a geological map and this will tell you the age of your fossil.

Photo of geological and paleontological tools

Geology hammer, cold chisel and hand lens
Photographer: Rodney Start / Source: Museum Victoria


Be especially aware of safety issues. Cliffs are often visited by fossil collectors because of the fossil deposits exposed in the cliff face, but tragic accidents and fatalities have occurred due to falls and cliff collapses.

Stay clear of unstable cliffs, and seek local advice if you are unsure.

Collecting fossils scattered over the surface in Central Queensland
© Patricia Vickers-Rich


Information about Victorian Government mapping products can be obtained from specialist map shops or the Department of Sustainability and Environment Information Centre, 8 Nicholson Street (PO Box 500) East Melbourne, 3002. Ph. (03) 9637 8325

Comments (5)

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Phoebe 16 October, 2013 15:10
What dating method did you use to collect the fossil of the Trilobite at Waratah Bay, Victoria? As well what environment would the Trilobite. Thanks, Phoebe
Discovery Centre 22 October, 2013 16:16
Hi Phoebe - as is usally the case, it is not the fossil itself that is dated, but instead the unit of rock that the fossil was found in, in this case the unit is called the Digger Island Marlstone. The rock unit is assigned this age based on its placement relative to associated metamorphic and volcanic rock, which are dated directly using chronometric dating techniques, including U-Pb and Ar-Ar dating.
Ari 24 January, 2015 15:54
What dig sites have different periods in Victoria ?
Fabian 3 August, 2016 23:59
Hi, I've have attempted fossil collecting a few times now and have had no luck :( I have used maps to find known fossil locations in the coopers creek area. Do you have any tips for newbie?
Fabian 15 February, 2017 00:50
Hi, I've have attempted fossil collecting a few times now and have had no luck :( I have used maps to find known fossil locations in the coopers creek area. Do you have any tips for newbie?
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