I think I found a fossil/artifact! What should I do with it?

While we wish we could help everyone identify the wonderful things that they find in the world, we simply cannot. There are many artifacts that are just not within our area of expertise, and we do not want to misidentify anything.

The most important thing to do if you find what you believe is a fossil or an artifact is to leave it where you found it.

When scientists study these items, we need to know exactly where they came from so that we can learn everything possible about them. We need to know where they were found because that can tell us how old they are, what other fossil animals they might have been buried with, and where to look for new fossils.

If you believe that the fossil or artifact is in danger of being lost, damaged, or stolen if it remains where you found it, only then should you take it away—and only if you are on private land that you own or have permission to be on.

Nothing is permitted to be taken out of a national park or other publicly owned land. So, if you think something is in danger within national land, alert a park ranger or employee of the park.

If you are sure that you can remove the item and that removing it is the right choice, make sure you note exactly where it came from—take pictures of it on the ground and of your entire surrounding area.

Then, contact your local natural history museum. Many have special events where members of the public can bring in things they’ve found for identification, and even if they do not, they will have experts in many fields on staff. Even if you chose to leave the item where you found it, you can bring or send pictures to museum staff and they will do their best to identify it from those. Be sure to get lots of angles!

The staff of your local natural history museum will know more about the kinds of fossils that can be found in your area than Dr. Anthropology would, so they are more likely to correctly identify the item.

Have a different answer or more to add to this one? Send it to us.

What can rocks and sediments tell us about how our ancient ancestors developed over the last 4 million years?
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