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Can I Keep Fossils I Find? Understanding the Laws Around Fossil Collection

It’s exhilarating to find fossils that have been buried for millions of years. But before you set out on your next fossil-hunting expedition in the United States, Canada and Australia, it's essential to understand the laws surrounding the collection and possession of fossils.

Fossil Hunting in the United States

In the United States, the laws regarding the collection and possession of fossils vary depending on the location and ownership of the land. On federal lands, such as national parks and monuments, it is illegal to collect vertebrate fossils without a permit. Additionally, many states have their own regulations governing fossil collection on state-owned lands.

In the US, selling fossils collected from federal lands without a permit is strictly prohibited under the Antiquities Act of 1906 and the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act.


Can you keep and sell fossils you find in the US?

If you are on federal land in the United States, you cannot collect or keep vertebrate fossils. Invertebrate fossils like mollusks and trilobites can be collected legally on public land. But this must be for personal use, and the fossils may not be bartered or sold.


On privately owned land in the United States, it is legal to collect and keep both invertebrate and vertebrate fossils. If it’s your land, you have the right to keep and sell any fossils found on your property. If you are on someone else’s land, you must first obtain the landowner’s permission to search for and collect fossils. Of course, if the fossil is important, the US government urges you to report your find so that the discovery can be studied for scientific purposes.

What Are the Laws About Finding Fossils in Canada?

In Canada, excavating vertebrate fossils found on Crown land requires provincial approval and a permit. This includes provincial land, national parks and protected areas.


You can search for fossils on private land in Canada without a permit. However, even if you find a fossil on private land, all fossils found in Canada belong not to the finder but to the Crown or, on Indigenous land, to that specific community.


Can you keep and sell fossils you find in Canada?


You cannot sell fossils found in Canada as you are considered the “caretaker” and not the owner. Each Canadian province is the custodian of all fossils.

In Australia, Who Can Find, Keep and Sell Fossils?

In Australia, the laws about digging up and keeping fossils are more lax than in the US and Canada. If you are on Crown land in Australia, you can search if you have a permit, permission or a license. On private land in Australia, you’ll need permission from the landowner or native title representative.

According to How to hunt fossils responsiblyby Kailah Thorn, EdCC Earth Science Museum Curator at The University of Western Australia, “It’s always a good idea to check with your state museum or interest group which sites are OK for fossicking — some may be culturally, historically or scientifically sensitive.” The article includes a well-researched breakdown on permissions needed, rules, and who to contact by territory and state in Australia.


Can you keep and sell fossils found in Australia?

Fossils can be collected on crown land in Australia and the finder can keep the specimens collected. With that said, palaeontologists at museums in Australia are interested in seeing fossils that may be important and will accept donations of fossils that are scientifically significant.


According to the Australia Museum, you can sell fossils found in Australia unless they are considered protected objects under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986. Those fossils cannot be legally exported without a permit.


Ancient Odysseys Believes in Collecting Fossils Responsibly

Ancient Odysseys believes in the importance of excavations for the sake of study and research. Fossils are part of our natural and cultural heritage and belong to everyone. All the dinosaur, fossil and paleontology digs featured on Ancient Odysseys are conducted for the benefit of science and each dig site is associated with a museum or repository so that the fossils can be studied and exhibited for all to enjoy.


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