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How to Identify a Dinosaur Fossil

Updated February 21, 2017

Dinosaur bones and fossils are the remains of animals that walked our planet more than 65 million years ago. Species of dinosaurs lived and died through different time periods, but over time their bones remained and are fossilised for us to discover. To identify a dinosaur fossil that has been buried for millions of years takes research, having a trained eye and examining the physical attributes of the fossil. With a little bit of luck and knowledge, you may find a dinosaur fossil in your backyard.

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  1. Analyse the physical characteristics of the dinosaur fossil. Dinosaur bones are sometimes bigger than animal bones unless fragments have been broken up during fossilisation. Match them with images of fossils found in the past using online resources or published materials to see if it is a genuine fossil.

  2. Familiarise yourself with the shape, texture and colour of a fossil bone. Some fossils can resemble rocks because over millions of year, rock formations have attached and engulfed themselves over the fossils. You can also look closely under a magnifying glass or microscope to see the particles and texture of the object. Rocks are made out of mud, dirt, volcanic material and materials that resemble the earth's crust and have been eroded by wind and water over millions of years. Fossils, however, are covered with a layer of silt that keeps the oxygen from decomposing the fossil. Bone textures are smooth and finished and contain carbon atoms.

  3. Compare images of fossil findings sketched or photographed by scientists that are published in journals and articles and on websites. Dinosaur fossils with distinct sizes and characteristics can be matched to find out exactly which dinosaur your fossil came from. For example, if the fossil is in the shape of a duckbill tooth, the surrounding findings in the area could be from the duckbill dinosaur.

  4. Examine the type of rock that surrounds the fossil. With scientific testing and carbon dating equipment, we can determine the age of the rock and can narrow down the type of dinosaur the fossil came from. Although it is difficult to determine the specific time period a fossil came from by just physically observing rock formations, you can examine the layering, physical traits and composition of the rock to determine if the fossils are from about the same time period as other fossils in the area.

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Things You'll Need

  • Magnifying glass or microscope

About the Author

Paul Lin has been writing professionally since 2010. He has written scripts for the National Science Foundation and short films that have won awards at film festivals. His knowledge of broad topics along with visual scriptwriting allows him to write articles that brings words to life. Lin holds a Bachelor of Arts in scriptwriting from the University of North Texas.

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