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What is Vertebrate Paleontology? How to work with Fossils

Have you found a vertebrate fossil? Contact us before you do anything, and read our Fossil FAQ.

Vertebrate fossils can be found all over the world, in random and sometimes unexpected places. This means that professional vertebrate paleontologists aren’t the only people who discover these fossils, and in fact, many important discoveries have been made by amateur fossil hunters and laypeople.

What does this mean for the science of vertebrate paleontology? Unfortunately, it can mean that important fossils are sometimes damaged, lost, sold or destroyed by otherwise well-meaning people who haven’t had adequate training and may not be aware of the scientific importance of their find.

People who prepare, clean, restore and repair fossils professionally are called preparators. Over the years, they’ve developed many ingenious methods for working with fossils without damaging them. The following resources were developed for and by fossil preparators:

Defining the Professional Vertebrate Fossil Preparator: Essential Competencies 

Supported by the 2011 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Preparator’s Grant, this document was prepared by a group of professional prepartors to identify the competencies that are fundamental to the definition of the qualified professional preparator.

Download the PDF >

PREPLIST: Email discussion list focusing on field and laboratory techniques in vertebrate paleontology

This E-mail list is open for anyone who is interested in technical insights. It is devoted to the exchange information, questions, opinions, etc. about preparation of vertebrate fossils. No subject, related to preparation is off-limits.
 Debate is encouraged for honing our knowledge and thinking skills, for truth-seeking, and for clarifying our perspectives. However, flames or personal attacks will not be tolerated.
 Commercial advertising on the list is not permitted.

Join the email list >

The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections

The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections [SPNHC] is an international society whose mission is to improve the preservation, conservation and management of natural history collections to ensure their continuing value to society.

Visit the SPNHC website >

Have you found a vertebrate fossil? Contact us before you do anything, and read our Fossil FAQ.

Incisocutum sarahae

Know the Law

Different laws apply in different locations and for different types of fossils. Vertebrate fossils are rare and often scientifically important, so stricter policies often apply to the collection and sale of vertebrate fossils than to plant and invertebrate fossils. In the United States, the SVP has been instrumental in the important passage of the The Paleontological […]

Fossil vertebrae from the Hornerstown formation of New JerseyPhoto by Thea Boodhoo

Fossil FAQ

Why should fossils be preserved? Fossils are for everyone — children and adults, amateur and professional paleontologists. From fossils we learn about the history of life, but much of the story is yet to be written. Fossils from public lands are an educational and scientific resource for our generation and those yet to come. Scientifically […]

Aipichthys minor, by Didier DescouensImage viaénomanien_Liban.jpg

What you should know about vertebrate fossils

Fossil vertebrates are usually unique or rare, nonrenewable resources that constitute part of our natural heritage. They provide data by which the history of vertebrate life on Earth may be reconstructed and are one of the primary means of studying evolutionary patterns and processes as well as environmental change. Becoming a fossil is extremely unlikely […]