Finding Fossils

SUMMARY: Peter Fenton, technician at the Royal Ontario Museum, talks about the challenges of finding Burgess Shale-type fossils. (1:42)

Fossil hunters at work scrutinizing rocks
DESCRIPTION: Fossil hunters at work scrutinizing rocks

"Over the years you train your eyes to pick out things on rocks, even from a reasonable distance and even though the fossils can be quite small. It's amazing what will jump out at you if you've been working with the specimens long enough. So the very first thing you do is you tend to just walk around and look at the fossils at the side of the mountain."

Fossil hunter picking up, discarding chunks of rock
DESCRIPTION: Fossil hunter picking up, discarding chunks of rock

"Again, all just loose little bits and pieces, dinner-plate sized rocks, this is called talus. Sometimes you'll find slightly bigger slabs of rocks in which case you'll want to split them open."

Fossil hunter splitting rocks with hammer
DESCRIPTION: Fossil hunter splitting rocks with hammer

"So in that case you'll either use the chisel edge of a geological hammer and just sort of chip away at it until you find that weak plane that runs through a rock and the rock will split open."

Splitting rocks with chisel
DESCRIPTION: Splitting rocks with chisel

"Other times you can use the splitting chisel with the hammer and just tapping at it, whacking at it, often hitting your hand, you'll split it open. When we're actually excavating rock on the side of the mountains they tend to be a lot larger, a lot heavier, thicker rock."

Fenton displays crack hammer, heavy chisel
DESCRIPTION: Fenton displays crack hammer, heavy chisel

"So of course when you have thicker, heavier rocks you use thicker, heavier hammers. We'll move to things like crack hammers, and/or sledge hammers and larger, heavier chisels."

Fossil hunters splitting rocks, looking for fossils
DESCRIPTION: Fossil hunters splitting rocks, looking for fossils

"It's all about whacking at a rock and hoping it breaks. If a rock does have a fossil in it, that fossil that's buried in that rock just forms a very slight plane of weakness in a rock. So there is a tendency for the rock to actually break right where that fossil is. So when you whack it and there's a fossil in it, there's a good chance it might break. Now, you won't get the entire fossil exposed, that we have to do, back at the lab. But you hopefully will find enough that you'll realize you have something worth keeping."

© Royal Ontario Museum