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Fossil excavation hero

Excavation of Fossils in Hanksville

Field Work

As a volunteer field crew member, you will have many chances to work with fossils. Most of the fossils in the quarry are very big (think long neck Camarasaur femur).  The matrix, or rock surrounding the fossil, is very hard so you will use a tool called air scribe to carefully remove the sand and dirt around the fossil.  The air scribe is connected to an air compressor that gives your tool the power to break apart the tough matrix around your fossil.  The Burpee team will teach you how to use the tool, and then provide the equipment.  

You will also use a brush (and sometimes a shovel) to move sand and dirt from around your fossil working space.  Your goal will be to expose the top of the fossil, and then work under the sides to pedestal it.  Once that is complete, you will work with the crew to cover the top of the fossil with plaster so eventually the pedestal can be removed, the fossil flipped, and the other side protected with plaster for the trip back to Burpee.

While some volunteers get to work on their bone from start to finish in a single trip, many bones are so large that they take multiple years to remove!  Other times, you will be making great progress exposing your bone only to run into another unexpected find of a different bone that needs to be removed first!  It is not uncommon to discover more bones as you work to uncover your own!

Discover Card
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arrow points bone
Bone in Matrix

The arrow points to a fossil in the matrix. You can spot them by their different color as well as the porous nature of the bone.

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air scribe in utah
Air Scribe

The air scribe is used to carefully remove the matrix (surrounding rock and sand) from around the edges of the fossil

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exposing Bone hard work utah
Exposing Bone

Overburden often has to be moved above the fossil to work closely on the fossil. A volunteer shovels dirt away from the fossils.

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exposing Bone hard work utah
Exposing Bone

Some fossils are bigger than others. These two volunteers expose a rib from the matrix.

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exposing Bone hard work utah
Exposing Bone

Sometimes getting in an odd position helps you see your work more clearly!

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Utah fossil with tools
Exposing Bone

After much hard work, the shape of the bone can be seen. We continue to remove matrix until the bone is on a pedestal.

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Measurement in Utah
Gather Location Data

As the bone is exposed, the Burpee team gathers precise data about the location of the fossil, and the angle it sat in the matrix. Bones are carefully labeled for further study at Burpee.

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Plastering Bone
Plaster the Bone

Young volunteers and Burpee staff plaster one exposed side of the bone so the pedestal can be removed later, and the bone flipped over.

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Classic Plaster Thumbs Up
Plaster Hands!

The team poses for the "classic" plaster hands & thumbs up!

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plaster other side utah dan
Journey to Burpee

After the pedestal has been removed, the bone can be flipped and completely plastered to be most protected on the long journey back to Burpee Museum.

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The Jay and Barbara Brost Paleo Lab
Back at Burpee...

The plaster jackets are opened and fossils are prepped for research and/or display.

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Jurassic Corner
On Display

Some of the Hanksville fossil finds can be seen in the "River of Dinosaurs" exhibit at Burpee Museum. Will your next find be on display?