Picture Matching Fossils

Elizabeth Rhenberg, Ohio State University-Main Campus
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Teaching the students how to picture match fossils and to use the Treatise to find more information. Students are given a wide range of fossils to look at and appropriate material to match their fossil to an image which gives the genus and species name. With that information, the students turn to the Treatise of Invertebrate Paleontology to find upper level taxonomic names.

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This is for a undergraduate paleontology class. No previous geology required, but an introductory class on earth history would be useful.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered


How the activity is situated in the course

An early lab exercise to get the students thinking about actual fossils, what they look like, and how to get more information if they so desire.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The idea is to get the students to learn the fundamental way paleontologists identify fossils if they have no previous experience with them. It also is a chance to learn how to use the Treatise, a useful tool for any paleontologist.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The exercise is to get them to start really looking at and thinking about the fossils they find. Many fossils look similar at first pass, but paleontologists need to learn how to look for things like number of plates, thickness of ridges, or height of a spiral. Being able to see the detail is extremely important.

Other skills goals for this activity

In labs, the students don't necessarily have to work in groups, but the hope is they use each other for resources. I want them to look at their neighbor to ask that if they see the same pattern or if they think this is the correct genus.

Description and Teaching Materials

The materials used is up to the discretion of the instructor and what is available. I used fossils collected from the Middle Devonian Hamilton Group of New York and handed out images copied from "Devonian Paleontology of New York" by David Linsley (1994) for them to use to picture match. But any fossil and any illustration could be use. It is also important to have the correct volumes of the Treatise for them to turn to.

Teaching Notes and Tips

As this is used as an early lab, I draw things on the board that the students might need to consider. Such as the difference in symmetry between bivalves and brachiopods, different shapes that brachipods can take (convex/concave), examples of brachiopod hinge lines, the difference between high spiraled and low spiraled gastropods, and the different parts of a trilobite.

I would also suggest checking to be sure they have the correct genus and species before turning them loose on the Treatise. Otherwise, grading will be looking up each one individually instead of having a key.


The activity is assessed by grading the worksheet they turn in at the end of the lab. The worksheet I hand out has all possible taxonomic levels on them so that the students have an idea of what to look for (things like Tribe are left off). Assessment of the picture matching is done in class to be sure they have the right animal before heading into the Treatise.

References and Resources

Treatise of Invertebrate Paleontology