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Field equipment

A good preparation is half the job. Be sure to provide tools adapted to the dig site, and the material in which the fossils are located in situ. Preferably pack light when you go out on the field (but do not nibble at the expense of safety), Also, provide sufficient capacity to get heavy finds out of the field. The next page will provide an overview of the main things, one needs for a typical dig site visit. Although, when salvaging very large or fragile specimens, one might relate to the use of casts or other heavy equipment.

 

Basic equipment & safety

The outcrop of geological strata is often associated with highly dynamic environments, such as eroding cliff coasts, quarries, building sites, dredging works etc. These environments involve certain risks, which in some cases can be life-threatening. For example: falling rocks, sharp stone splinters or quicksand. It is of the utmost importance to take the necessary precautions and avoid taking unnecessary risks. It is recommended to always visit a dig site accompanied by a second person. When visiting cliff coasts specifically take the changing tides into account. In active quarries, there is always a real danger of collapse. (Read our article about the collecting code)

If you plan to go on a fieldtrip on your own, be sure to keep your mobile phone within your pocket at all time. Also important, is to drink plenty of water before and during your fieldtrip. Also, a basic first aid kit might come in handy when searching for fossils. If you are looking for fossils in extremely hard rock formations, be sure to put on safety goggles, to protect you from flying rock fragments.

Checklist basic equipment:

  • Appropriate (outdoor) clothing and sturdy shoes (with adequate profile)
  • Work gloves
  • Helmet
  • Fluorescent vests
  • Safety goggles / spare pair of glasses
  • Mobile phone
  • First Aid Kit
  • Sufficient food and water/ beverage to meet your needs
  • Loupe
  • A brush or hand brush to wipe clean your finds
  • A sturdy backpack, bag, bucket, or tray

Information and documentation Checklist:

  • Location descriptions, (topographic) maps and geological profile, tide table for coastal areas
  • Authorization or permit to enter the premises
  • Notebook or paper, pencil (works when it rains)
  • Camera / GPS to document (in situ) finds and locations

Storage checklist

  • Wrapping materials: bags, zip locks, newspapers, small boxes and tinfoil for fragile specimens
  • Glue (reversible)
  • Impregnation or fixation agent for fragile specimens

 

Searching for fossils in hard material (rocks)

In harder rocks, a hammer is often your most important tool. Considerable for hammers is the shape, and especially the weight: an average weight (about 600-900 grams) is suitable for versatile use. A sledgehammer (about 1200-2000 grams) lends itself to break larger or very hard blocks. A very small and light hammer (100-200 g) cay be useful to trim some specimens in the field. A cardinal rule however, is to always conduct the fine preparation at home. So usually it’s not really necessary to bring this fine material along on your fieldtrip.

It might be worthwhile to invest a decent geological hammer. Choose a weight that is customized to your physical power and use (approx. 850 grams can be considered standard). Most brands have a version with a flattened and a pointy finish. The pointed variant can be considered to be slightly more versatile, the flat variant is superior to strong layered rocks. Geological hammers can be found in geological specialty shops.

Important notice! While some geological hammers are equipped with a chisel-shaped part, it's never a good idea to hit it with a second hammer like an ordinary chisel. Both hammers are made of hardened steel, when hitting the two hammers together (even while gentle tapping), razor sharp metal shavings will chip of. These chips can cause serious injuries!
 
Pickaxes can be used to move large quantities of rock, on condition that the material is not too hard, or breaks easily. Crowbars can also be used to crack open fractures inside a rock formation. In very soft rocks a saw might come in handy as well. A major advantage of this technique is that you hardly causes vibrations which could cause damage the fossils.

Chisels come in various shapes and sizes. They are especially suitable to break stones in a more controlled way, or open up existing fractures. You might prefer wide, or flat chisels for highly stratified rocks, and narrow, or pointed chisels for amorphous materials.

If you've carved out a fossil, it should be properly wrapped for transport. For small fossils, plastic containers will do. Larger fossils however are best wrapped in newspapers. It is good practice to include information about the location and exact layer while packing in the field.

Checklist:

  • Geological hammer
  • Sledgehammer for large or hard blocks
  • Pickaxe
  • Crowbar
  • Chisels in different sizes
  • Saw to cut fossils of soft rocks (old crosscut saw)
  • Hand truck for heavy finds

 

Searching for fossils in soft or loose sediments (sand, clay)

For softer sediments, make sure to bring along your digging and cutting tools. An oyster knife for example, can proof to be a very suitable tool when working with clays. Other loose sediments can be sifted, either dry or by adding water. For dry sand, a sieve with a mesh of 5 mm diameter is well-suited, but the mesh should first of all be adapted to the size of the fossils you are looking for, or expecting to find. When sieving with multiple finer mesh sizes, it’s advised to you make use of water to flush the sediment. See our guide on how to make a sieve.

In order to dig out the sand, it is necessary to take a small trowel with you, to full up your sieve. In order to loosen harder gravel, a scraper or rake can be very convenient to use as well.

Fossils from loose sediments such as sand, can be found by sieving

If the sediment consists of very small fossils, it is recommended to take a bag of un-sieved material home, and wash it with water in a sieve with a fine mesh diameter (eg, 1 mm or less). After washing the sediment, the remaining residue can be examined with a loupe or microscope at home. The sieving can be done on location, if there is a puddle of water available on the dig site. It’s more efficient to sieve sediment during your fieldtrip and take the residue home. Buckets or containers with a lid are much easier to handle and transport when you can drain them on the site.

Checklist:

  • Sieves (with the required mesh diameters)
  • Spade or shovel
  • Rake or scraper, (oyster) knife or awl to loosen hard parts
  • Buckets or bins for sediment residue

 


Do you have additional information for this article? Please contact the Fossiel.net Team.

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