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How To Identify & Find Dinosaur Fossils

T-Rex Skull

T-Rex Skull

Identifying a Dinosaur

We all are aware that dinosaurs, long before humans walked the Earth, they were one of the most extraordinary animals that ever lived on the planet.

Dinosaurs are among the most successful creatures that have ever lived. Some dinosaurs were harmless and ate plants, and known as herbivores. Other dinosaurs were cruel and fierce hunters with vicious teeth who caught their prey then pierced into their bodies with extremely sharp teeth before eating their flesh.

Dinosaurs are special reptiles and lived on land, and most of them laid their eggs with hard shells. They had strong scaly skin and the claws of some sort. Reptiles cannot produce their own body heat, instead they have to rely on the air around them to make them warm or to cool them down. Some scientists believe that particular dinosaurs were 'warm-blooded' and that they could produce their own heat inside their bodies, like the mammals do for instance.

Dinosaur Footprint

Dinosaur Footprint

T rex model

T rex model

Dinosaurs were different from other reptiles like the ones existing today. So what makes them different and how do we identify one? To start of with, here's a picture of a model above which gives a rough idea, not entirely accurate, on what a typical dinosaur looks like. This may be how a Tyrannosaurus rex looked like in prehistoric age. If you spot one on the road, run like mad otherwise you'd get beaten or eaten.

We know today's reptiles include crocodiles, lizards, alligators, turtles, tortoises and snakes. Reptiles do not have a 'central heating system'. They are unable to control the heat inside their bodies as mammals, or such as humans can. If the surrounding air is cold, their blood is cold, but if the air is warm, their blood is warm.

For a start, the dinosaurs' legs were tucked straight under their bodies, and not protruding to the side like the legs of other reptiles. They could walk and manoeuvre much more easily and flexibly than other reptiles who had to drag their bodies along the ground as they walked, which makes the movement more harder. Dinosaurs walked in a more upright way, either on two legs or four legs and although certain dinosaurs moved quite slowly, other dinosaurs could run very rapidly indeed.

There are hundreds of examples of dinosaurs and some were not classified as dinosaurs in the prehistoric times. There were huge and gigantic dinosaurs at that time. If they were still in existence today, they would be able to see over the top of a four-story high building. One fine example of a tall dinosaur was the Brachiosaurus. There were also dinosaurs that were as long as four long vehicles like buses for example. Others scuttled around closer to the ground, they were the size of chickens and some were tiny enough to place on a human hand.

Dinosaurs lived on land and they did not fly. The Pterosaurs are known as the 'flying reptiles' and were not dinosaurs, even though certain sources classify they are. The plesiosaurs were the giant 'swimming reptiles' and were not dinosaurs either, they lived in the sea and not on land obviously. It's like asking if a crocodile is a lizard or a reptile! So there is a confusion between the classes and orders of prehistoric animals and the present ones of now. Another interesting fact to ponder on is that the word 'Dinosaur' means 'terrible lizard', which derived from the Greek language where 'dino' means terrible and 'saur' means lizard.

commons.wikimedia.org (public domain worldwide)

commons.wikimedia.org (public domain worldwide)

Is it possible to discover a new form of dinosaur today?

It is slightly possible and not totally impossible to discover new kinds of dinosaurs. In fact, finding a complete dinosaur skeleton is highly rare in today' times, but if a fossil of a dinosaur is found by luck, it will require experts to dig it up meticulously and professionally. To find a new dinosaur can be difficult and exhaustive work. You must acquire a mind of a sleuth carrying a magnifying glass, and if you are committed to do such work, first you must search for specific types of rocks like mud-stones or sandstones. Furthermore, the rocks must be between 60 to 200 million years old. What experts normally do is they search for traces of fossils and these can be broken fragments of a bone at the foot of cliffs, quarries, hills or even down the mines.

If a discovery of a dinosaur skeleton is made, you will require a team of experts depending on the size of the dinosaur. To remove and free the dinosaur skeleton, the fossil bones needs to be excavated carefully out of the rock so that the skeleton of the dinosaur can be assembled together like a jigsaw at the laboratory. As I've already stated, dinosaur fossils are mainly found in rocks that were being formed from mud and sand when the dinosaurs existed back then. The fossils are mainly buried deep down in the lowest layers of the rock.

Finding Fossils

The experts or paleontologists do not actually dig holes all over the area in the hope of discovering a fossil, this is time consuming and wasting energy. First the experts examine the rock and be absolute positive it's the right one, and then they rely and let the wind and rain to assist them with their work. The ideal places to search for fossils are where the rock has been worn right down to its lower layers by the action of the wind and rain and sometimes the waves can assist in a way. Quite often, huge parts of a hill or a cliff can crumble away and reveal part of a fossil. More about this process will be explained below and the way paleontologists do this kind of fossil digging.

Many paleontologists often go to quite remote parts of the world like in Mongolia or China in eastern Asia to find dinosaur fossils. Sometimes fossils can also be found by accident or sheer luck. They can be found by workmen working and constructing the roads, quarry workers by blasting stones, or even miners when they are digging underground. Fossil hunters must also be aware and cautious because the areas where fossils are mainly found are often dangerous and hazardous. So basically, I don't think scientists have found all major classifications of dinosaurs and it's still possible to discover new ones.

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More on Fossil Digging

I'll end with on how exactly paleontologists dig up dinosaur fossils. To dig up a dinosaur, we've learned that most dinosaur fossils are embedded in rocks as I've already mentioned above. This can take many months for experts to dig out a gigantic dinosaur out of the rocks. The first step they may take is to blow up many tonnes of rock or use a bulldozer to get access to the fossils. Basically only the top layers of the rock are blasted or else the fossils may be damaged severely. The second process is slow because extra care needs to be taken to dig out the fossils without damaging them. They use hammers, chisels and also a dentist's drill is used to chip away the rock that encloses the fossils. The next process is the brushwork. They use soft gentle brushes to clear away earth and stones and these brushes do not damage the bones. The bones which seem to be crumbly, can be painted with a special type of glue to harden the bone. The bones are even photographed in their original positions before being moved. This shows where they were found which makes it easier for the scientists to assemble the whole skeleton at the laboratory.

Paleontologists then search for clues in the surrounding rocks for signs of other bones that might have broken away from the main skeleton. Or sometimes there could be another fossil skeleton in the surrounding rocks buried nearby too. After they've done all that, they piece together the skeleton like a jigsaw. Every piece of fossil has to be numbered and recorded as well to assist the scientists further to reconstruct the skeleton in the laboratory. This work is very crucial although it is slow and painstaking, but it needs to be done carefully. The last stage must be handled with extreme care and that is wrapping the bones in special tissue paper once the bones are out of the ground completely. Then after the tissue paper it needs to be wrapped in plaster-soaked bandages or it can be special foam jackets, that set hard to protect the bones when its traveling to the laboratory. In the laboratory, scientists do take care of the fossils regularly by brushing and cleaning and keeping the fossil fully protected.

Dinosaur fossil excavation site

Dinosaur fossil excavation site

Fossil Protecting

Fossil Protecting


Theresonlyoneash on October 30, 2018:

Great Hub, its not often you find an article that is well written and easy to understand. Had a keen interest in Dinisaurs when I was younger. I should study this great topic again

Zia Uddin (author) from UK on December 28, 2012:

Thanks both for commenting. It's surprising to know that you live a few miles away from T-rex, Rolly A Chabot, that is great. If you see a real dinosaur, let me know, lol. Thanks again.

Rolly A Chabot from Alberta Canada on December 28, 2012:

Hi aziza786... great hub and good reading... the first picture you have of the larger replica of the dinosaur is only a few miles from me in te heart of fossil country here in Canada ... quite the site and you can climb all the way to te top and look out over the land they once roamed...


Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on December 28, 2012:

wow this is an awesome hub.. I have always said lizards are just little dinosaurs.. lol.. You know i bet you are right.. they have not found all the fossils of dinosaurs..

I am sharing this great hub