Digging for Fossils

This page authored by JoAnn Thissen, Nassau Community College, Long Island, NY
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In this laboratory, students act as paleontologists at a fossil rich location. Their job is to get the fossils out of the hillside without destroying them. They then must use internet research to identify each fossil they find.

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Learning Goals

To give students:
  • a view of what it's like to be a working paleontologist
  • an idea of the difficulty in removing fossils in the field
To learn to
  • identify fossils
  • perform internet research
  • write a scientific report on their findings

Context for Use

This is a laboratory exercise using in a Historical Geology class of 24-26 students in grades 13 and 14. Approximately one laboratory session of 2 1/2 hours is needed for the exercise. Students must do additional research and write the report outside of class.

Description and Teaching Materials

While on a field investigation with your fellow paleontologists you came across a hillside with so many incredible fossils that you could not dig them all out in situ. You and your team carefully blasted through the rock to separate the find from the hillside. But your work isn't over yet. As we saw in the film, separating the fossil from the rock is no easy task. You have brought your find to the lab and must now go through the process of separating fossil from rock. It's only after you've freed the fossils can you begin to identify them.
Your job: To free the fossils from the hillside and identify your finds. Dig carefully, there are many fossils in your rock and some are very delicate.
Additional teacher instructions, including a list of materials, can be found in the file "Teacher Instructions....."

Student Handout: Digging for Fossils Lab (Microsoft Word 276kB Jun20 10)
Teacher Instructions for "Digging for Fossils" (Microsoft Word 63kB Jun20 10)

Teaching Notes and Tips

At the beginning of each term the students in my class are given a handout sheet describing the style of report I expect for each assignment. This insures that each student's report is equal to the others. They must:
  • be double spaced
  • Times New Roman, 12 point font, normal margins
  • include a cover sheet with a picture (want to see evidence of creativity)
  • include a bibliography and parenthetical citations
I allow the students one week to complete their report and hand it in.


Deliverables - Each student must:
  1. List the names of your fossils in the spaces on your sheet. You may have any number of fossils up to ten.
  2. Submit a typed report, in the usual style, describing your organism including the time period it existed, the paleoenvironment and include a picture of the organism.

References and Resources