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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Illustration of ancient flora

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?

A map of North America highlighting the areas where Mesozoic rocks are exposed at the surface of the Earth.  Localities where dinosaur fossils have been found are also marked on the map.

Click to zoom, then drag the magnifying glass across the map to take an even closer look.

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.

Visit the Paleontology Portal web site.

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.

View easy to follow video instructions for using the “Navigator” version of this site. Following the example in the video, you can make a world map of localities where dinosaur fossils have been found by opening Navigator and applying the filters “Mesozoic” and “Dinosauria.”

Visit the Paleobiology Database web site.

The National Park Service manages more than 250 parks where fossils have been found.

Visit a web site with links to information about the parks, their geologic history, fossils, and more.

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.



Explore More

Allosaurus skull

Allosaurus skull on exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History.

Visit the Department of Paleobiology website.

Explore interactive virtual tours, watch videos, read our blogs, learn more about dinosaurs, geologic time, and much more!

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