Lots of fossils are still in the ground awaiting discovery. Here you can learn about maps and other resources that may help you find them.
Were there dinosaurs in your backyard?
This map shows (in green and dark blue) the regions of North America where rocks that formed during the Age of Dinosaurs -- 225 to 65.6 million years ago, are exposed at the surface of the Earth. The red dots mark all the dinosaur discoveries ever reported in the scientific literature. If you live near near one of these places, there might well be dinosaurs in the bedrock under your home!
In some parts of the country, especially the Northeast and Midwest, most rocks are too old to contain dinosaur fossils. The younger, Mesozoic rock layers were largely scraped away by glaciers during the last Ice Ages. The ancient rock exposures may contain fossils of plants or marine organisms, but the dinosaur fossils are gone from this region. In other regions, such as the Southeast, the surface rocks are too young to contain dinosaurs. There, you might find mammals such as whales or early horse species, which evolved after the dinosaurs became extinct.
In addition to looking for rocks of the right age, it is important to identify rocks that formed in the right environments. Some Mesozoic rocks, such as those in the Great Plains, formed in ancient oceans and are unlikely to yield fossils of land-living animals such as dinosaurs. Instead you can search these rocks for fossils of ocean-dwelling animals. You might find tiny clams -- or enormous mosasaurs!
What types of fossils have been found near your home? The following web sites will help you find out:
The Paleontology Portal web site provides information about the ages of rocks found throughout North America. The homepage contains a geologic map of the continent, with different colors representing rock of different ages. Click on any state or province to view a detailed map, then click on the colored boxes to the right of the map for information about what the region was like during each period and what fossils have been found.
The Paleobiology Database is a searchable online database of fossil discoveries around the world reported in the scientific literature. You can explore particular fossil species, or see what ancient animals lived in different places.
You can look for fossils found in specific places:
Select "fossil collection records." You'll get a new page, seen in the second screen shot, with a search form and many options.
You can search by country, state, or county (note that the database treats "United Kingdom" as a country and "England" as a state). Or you can search by rock layer ("formation"), time interval (such as "Jurassic"), or environment. Keep in mind that whatever you choose, your results will be places-localities with fossils that match your search criteria. Test it out by searching for the taxon "Dinosauria", the state of "Maryland", and the time interval of "Cretaceous." Click on "Search for basic info", which is underlined in red in the second screen shot. You should get a list of 15+ localities with fossils; click on the collection number to explore details about any of them.
You can also search and plot your results on a map:
In the menu bar on the Start Page, put the pointer over "analyze," underlined in red on the screen shot on the right.
- Select "draw maps of our fossil collections."
To look for specific fossil species:
- In the menu bar on the start page, put the pointer over "full search."
- Select "find fossil taxa."
- Enter a scientific name (such as "Tyrannosaurus rex") or a common name (such as "dinosaur").
- The results provide information about whatever fossil organism you entered. The gray bars allow you to explore other aspects in more detail, such as "classification" and "relationships." You can also see a map where fossils have been found, and click on the points to explore those locations. Test it out by searching for "Tyrannosaurus."
The National Park Service manages more than 230 parks where fossils have been found.
Fossil and Geology Clubs: Another great way to learn about fossils in your area - and how to find them - is to join a fossil or geology club. Many clubs can be found online. Try searching for club listings in your state.
Ask the Scientist
Do you have a question about dinosaurs, ancient environments or fossil collecting?
We regularly answer selected questions sent to us from our Visitors' Questions page.
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