Removing a Fossil
This series of drawings demonstrates the process of removing a typical
large fossil from the field. In this case the fossil is a partial mammoth
1. The fossil is discovered. Erosion has removed enough surrounding rock
or soil to partially expose our fossil.
2. Scientists carefully expose the fossil using a variety of hand tools.
They take measurements, record spatial data, and make a map. Although not
shown in the drawing, the fossil may be given a protective “cap” of plaster
at this point to prevent damage as excavation continues.
3. Paleontologists expose the tusk even further, in preparation for
plaster jacketing. Excavators have dug a trench around the fossil and it now
sits on a pedestal of rock.
4. Excavators cover the fossil tusk with moistened tissue paper, which
will act as a barrier between the fossil and the plaster.
5. Excavators wrap burlap soaked in plaster around the fossil. When dry,
the plaster hardens into a shell that protects the fossil during transport.
6. Next, one carefully tunnels under the fossil and quickly flips it off
its pedestal. This is usually the most delicate and dangerous part of the
7. After excavators flip the fossil, they apply plaster burlap strips to
the exposed rock matrix to completely encase the fossil. We have
successfully made a plaster jacket.
8. After the plaster has hardened, we can prepare our fossil for
transport. We can now move the fossil by sling, sled, or, if we are lucky,