Not All Dirty Work | God's World News

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Not All Dirty Work
Science Soup
Posted: February 20, 2018

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Would you enjoy looking for dinosaur or mammoth bones? For paleontologists, the whole world is like a big sandbox where puzzle pieces (fossils) are buried. They want to put the puzzle together to get facts about creatures of the past.

But before paleontologists can put the puzzle pieces together, they have to find them. They hike up and down hills. They stare at the ground, hoping they’ll catch a glimpse of a fossil poking out. (They also use modern tech to help them find fossils—but nothing does the job quite as well as a good, old-fashioned set of eyeballs.)

When they find a fossil, it’s time to start digging it out of the rock. First, the big tools come out: shovels and picks. Arriving closer to the bone, paleontologists use rock picks—two-headed hammers with a flat side and a chisel side. Next, they use a medium knife, then a smaller knife. As they work, they clean with a paintbrush to keep rock away from bone.

By now they have serious kinks in their necks! Has the time finally come to haul the treasure out of the “sandbox”? Not yet. Paleontologists have to take one more very important step. They must use words, photos, and videos to record everything about their discovery. Where did they find their fossil? Did they discover other bones nearby? These may belong to the same creature or the predator that killed it. The paleontologists must also look for pollen or plant samples. These may help them guess the age of their fossil.

Fossil digging is a lot of work. But it’s also the smallest part of paleontology. The researchers move their finds—very, very carefully. The puzzle is just beginning. Now they will spend long months in the lab studying the artifacts. Next, they will tell the world what they have found—through the difficult tasks of writing and publishing. Some paleontologists also spend time teaching students or museum-goers about historical finds. And some work raising money so they can go back to the fun part: dirty work!