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How are dinosaur fossils discovered and collected?

To find fossils, paleontologists first carry out an operation called prospecting, which involves hiking while keeping one's eyes focused on the ground in hopes of finding fragments of fossils on the surface. Once a fossil fragment is found, the collector brushes away the loose dirt on the surface to see if more of the specimen is buried in the ground. Awls, rock hammers, chisels, and other tools are used to remove the rock covering the bones to see how much of the skeleton is present. Special glue is applied to the cracks and fractures to hold the fossil together. Next, a trench is dug around the bones so that they sit on a low pedestal. A layer of plaster bandages is wrapped around the bones to create a hard cast. Once the cast hardens, the fossil in is packed for shipment back to the museum. Created by American Museum of Natural History.

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Video transcript

Well Dinosaur fossils are discovered in lots of different ways, you know, all the way from just starting up casual encounters by people who aren't paleontologists who find something, to construction sites, to professional big scale expeditions. So usually if we're just talking about the professional big scale expeditions like my own expeditions that we spend a good deal of time just going over maps going over satellite imagery going over all these different kinds of things to come up with a plan to go to an area to look for fossils. Most dinosaurs are discovered lying right on the surface, they don't have to all be completely exposed, in fact it's better if they're not, but if you get a little bit of a tail on a surface maybe you can dig toward the skull. So, it's very important to just walk and look and prospect that's the first step in finding dinosaurs. If you're lucky enough to find a skeleton that's still pretty much buried then you start the second operation which is called quarrying, and this really involves excavating as much of the skeleton as you can so at that point you get out your shovels, your chisels, your rock hammers and you try to dig around the skeleton without damaging the bones so that you can get a sense of how much of the skeleton is still buried in the ground, and from there, you dig around the perimeter of the skeletons, so that the bones are sitting up on pedestals that you can put plaster jackets on to protect the fossils and then dig them out and complete the cast of plaster around the bones, just like a doctor puts a cast around a broken arm or a broken leg, so that the fossils will be protected on the trip back to the museum where they can be prepared in more detail.