What to expect on
Each dig is unique, but there are some
general rules of engagement
Archaeology studies humanity's past through physical remains, structures, materials and artifacts created by humans all over the world.
Paleontology studies the evidence of once-living organisms, including animals and plants that are more than 10,000 years old.
How does archaeology differ from paleontology?
Fossil and archaeology digs are rigorous endeavors. If you are going out for multiple days, expect to rise early and put in a long, rewarding day unearthing discoveries by digging, chiseling, brushing, preparing and cataloging.
Many days you will be covered in dust from head to toe, working under a blazing sun. It’s hard work, but one that provides an incredible sense of discovery.It's rewarding both to help advance science and to uncover artifacts and fossils that haven’t seen the light of the sun for millennia or eons.
Long sleeve shirt
Loupe or magnifier
What to wear & bring
If you are planning a multi-day trip, conditions on each dig differ. Some sites are rudimentary and you may need to bring your own tent, soap, water and food, for example. Others provide many of the basics, so always check with each dig site for what to bring.
The list you see includes some general guidelines on what to bring for working "out in the field" and will serve you well for both one-day and multi-day digs. It's always smart to review each dig site’s specific requirements.
Keeping fossils & artifacts
The goal of archaeologists is to record the history of artifacts while paleontologists focus on the scientific study of fossils. Each strives to further research and, if they're lucky, house finds in a collection. Scientists are required to follow government rules and regulations to protect natural and cultural heritage, such as the UNESCO National Cultural Heritage Laws. This means that, as a rule, professionals in the field do not keep, sell or trade artifacts and fossils that are discovered. This also applies to dig participants.
Be aware that there are fossil collectors who search on private land and sell specimens for profit. Ancient Odysseys has chosen to work only with accredited researchers and institutions with digs that are excavated for scientific and historic study.
Tools of the trade
In paleontology, the sedimentary rock in which fossils are found, called "matrix," ranges from hard enough to withstand the force of a jackhammer, to soft enough to be removed with trowels, probes, chisels and brushes. Buckets and dustpans remove the rock and dirt, which is then dumped out of the way. Sometimes, tiny microfossils like teeth and fish scales can be extracted just beneath sandy surfaces and in anthills with tweezers and brushes.
Before fossils are fully removed from the ground, paleontologists mark the exact location by GPS, take photos and record details about the site, including a drawn layout of each bone's location in relation to another. Special glue is used to stabilize bones once they are exposed so they do not crack and crumble. After stabilization, each find is wrapped carefully or jacketed with plaster and labeled for safe transport to a lab or museum.
In archaeology, once the top layers of soil are removed with shovels, the work becomes more delicate, with soil removed stratigraphically in careful layers. Once close-work is needed, a straight-sided grid map of strings and stakes is put in place to fully record the exact location of each artifact.
Flat, pointed trowels and small pickaxes are used to loosen the soil or sand called “spoil” and it is collected in buckets. Nothing is discarded before being fully analyzed. Shaker screens sift soil through mesh so that even the tiniest artifacts are retrieved. Any artifacts are placed in bags and labeled with location information.