top of page
  • Marisa

What to expect on a fossil and archaeology dig: Braving the elements.

If you are considering participating in a fossil or archaeological excavation this year, you’re probably wondering exactly what the experience is like. Sites in different parts of the world with different climates bring their own sets of expectations.

Do you need previous experience on a dig?

If you’re a newbie, you will be happy to know that experience is not necessary on many public paleontology and archaeology digs. These programs are geared for beginners all the way up to the experienced amateur and professional. Tools are always provided, as is training in the various techniques needed to correctly collect materials and artifacts. There’s always someone on hand to answer questions and to guide you on tasks. Once you learn the ropes, you usually work with a small team of people on a specific area or task. It’s an incredible opportunity to learn. Unearthing fossils, features and artifacts is one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have.

Four things to expect on any paleontology or archaeology dig:

  1. Most sites are far away from civilization. Be prepared to drive or walk long distances.

  2. You’ll make mistakes. A lot of them. And that’s part of the learning experience and part of the fun. Rocks break, fossils crack and artifacts can be damaged. It happens frequently, so if it happens to you, make sure to let someone know so they can help troubleshoot.

  3. It’s hard work. Bring your strength and stamina. You’ll be hauling rocks and dirt and working in one position for hours at a time. These are each taxing to the body. It’s important to stretch and take breaks.

  4. Pack your patience. There is a lot of time spent searching, clearing and documenting. You can go hours or even days without finding anything. This is all part of the actual scientific process.


Weather is an important consideration on any excavation you choose to go on. If you’re lucky enough to be digging up dinosaurs in the United States, you’ll most likely be in North or South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado or New Mexico. That’s where most of the dinosaurs and early mammals have been found. Places like the badlands and other stark, treeless locations make it easier to see bones. That also means that there’s not much shade or windbreak to be had, so these places can be brutally hot and windy. On the flipside, there are fossil sites in Russia and Antarctica that are so cold that bundling up is more than a necessity; it’s a matter of life and death.

On the other hand, archaeological excavations take place absolutely everywhere, so it’s impossible to provide clear guidelines. If you are working on a Late Bronze Age site in Israel, the elements are going to be much different than say, a Mayan site in the jungles of Guatemala. Your best bet is to research locations in advance to know just what to expect when it comes to climate and weather.


Depending on where you are going, it’s smart to pack clothes that keep you protected and safe. There are a few items of clothing that are necessities for all archaeology and paleontology digs:

  1. Closed toe shoes or boots keep your feet and materials protected

  2. Reusable water bottle. Hydration is of extreme importance when working out in the field

  3. Hat to keep the sun out of your eyes and your head and shoulders protected

  4. Sunglasses to prevent the damage from bright sunlight and to protect from dust, rocks and particles

  5. Moisture wicking clothes for the heat (depending upon location)

  6. Long pants will help protect legs from sun, cold and bugs

  7. Parka or down coat. In cold climates this is a must. In hot climates, the weather can suddenly change

  8. Windbreaker will help in sudden weather shifts and protect you from the elements

  9. Working gloves protect hands from tool mishaps and when lifting heavy rocks

Find your next archaeology and paleontology adventure on

210 views0 comments


bottom of page