How to Identify Fossil Bones


Fossils are the remains of plants and animals that lived long ago. They come in different forms, including teeth, bones, eggs and casts. Fossil bones can be difficult to identify, even for the skilled scientist; however if you think you have found a fossil bone, there are a few ways you can go about attempting to identify it.

  • Make sure what you've found is bone. Other materials, including coral, wood and rock can sometimes take on the appearance of fossilized bone. Bone has a very specific texture that changes as it ages. Make sure you are familiar with that texture.

  • Get a good guidebook. A good guidebook is your best tool in identifying fossils and fossil bones that you may find. A book like the "National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Fossils" offers photographs and text with information on size, geological period, geographical distribution, and ecology of any animal or plant fossils you might find.

  • Know what species lived in your geographical region. Consult your guidebook to find out what species might have lived in the area in which you found your fossilized bone. Knowing the geographical distribution of species can help you narrow down to which animal your bone might have belonged.

  • Check the geologic maps in your guidebook to find out the age of the rock in which you found your specimen. You may be able to rule out certain species by knowing how old the rock is and what species lived during the time period.

  • Search for nearby fossils. Nearby fossils, including other animals, footprints or feces may give you clues as to the habitat of the animal whose bone you are trying to identify. Gather supporting evidence and consult your guidebook to try to further identify your bone.

  • Have it analyzed by a professional. If you have used all your resources and still cannot identify your fossil bone, take it to a specialist in your area who may be able to help you. You can phone a university in your city and ask if they can refer you to a scientist specializing in fossils.


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