Why Collect and Study Fossils?

Excerpt from Introduction to Fossil Collecting

(C) 1994-2004, Glen Kuban,

Part of Kuban's K-Paleo Place home page

In some ways collecting fossils is like collecting antiques, figurines, coins, or anything else. One may look for qualities of rarity, shape, color, composition, quality of preservation, general appearance, importance, and other desirable features. One may build a collection along a topical theme, or try to find as many different varieties as possible.

However, in other ways fossil collecting can be even more interesting and educational than other forms of collecting, and more important scientifically. Whereas antiques and artifacts are typically hundreds or thousands of years old, most fossils are many millions of years old. Fossils come in a vast array of sizes and shapes, from microscopic specimens to dinosaur skeletons as tall as a house.

Unlike most collectibles, fossils were once alive. Fossils also help expand scientific knowledge. They help teach us about the origin, diversity, and history of living things, and about the earth itself. Like a painting or sculpture, fossils can be considered works of art, but they are also works of nature. There is no end to the variety of fossils that may be found, or the thrill of discovering new forms. Fossil collecting is literally searching for buried treasure. Fossils are interesting to look at, and fun to collect, prepare, study, and display.

Anyone can collect fossils. Many fossils are relatively easy to find, and there is always a chance of finding a rare or previously unknown species. Basic field equipment is not expensive or complicated. Even those who cannot collect in the field due to physical limitations can obtain fossils from rock shops, gem & fossil shows, and museums, as well as study them through books and periodicals. Those who have been collecting or studying fossils for a while, including professional paleontologists, are usually glad to help a newcomer. Many areas have local fossil clubs, which are often affiliated with museums or universities.

If you do not have a background in science, do not let that hinder you from starting to collect or study fossils. Many amateur collectors have made significant contributions to the field of paleontology, and enjoy fossil collecting in its own right. Many donate specimens to museums, locate new fossil sites, help educate the public about fossils, and sometimes discover new fossil species. A number of very important fossils have been found by amateur collectors. With the help of more experienced collectors and paleon- tologists, you soon will be able to identify many of your fossils, and perhaps find some important ones.

The fossil hunter does not kill...he [or she] resurrects. And the results of this sport is to add to the sum of human pleasure and to the treasures of human knowledge. -- George Gaylord Simpson