Fossil Collecting - A Beginners Guide

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A Guide to Fossil Collecting

Collecting fossils can be a fun and educational past time for both young and old. Ebay has opened up the whole world to fossil collectors, with the opportunity to find many rare and interesting specimen from fossil plants, fish, ancient trilobites to insects in amber and bones and teeth from dinosaurs. This guide will point you in the right direction on starting a collection, list pitfalls to avoid, recognize the difference between genuine and fake fossils, how to store and display your ancient artifacts and concludes with our essential list of top 12 fossils to include in your collection.

The director of Unlimited Exotica is a former science teacher and has travelled the world extensively researching this topic. Below is a recent trip to the Petrified Forest in Arizona, USA,- a truly fascinating location with the fossilized remnants of an ancient forest scattered across the desert.


The Basics

A fossil is basically where an animal or plant has died and over time mineral deposits have taken their shape. There are many other factors that influence the formation of fossils, but that will suffice for here.

Fossil collecting can be great fun, but always observe any local laws regarding the collection and possession of fossils. This is especially true in Australia where most fossils are protected and can't be removed from their environment (just use your camera if in doubt). A word of warning....  never buy fossils from China on ebay, as it is illegal now to import them into Australia will get caught!

A lot of interesting fossils are coming out of Morocco, Europe and the US (from private land) which are fine to collect. Laws constantly change, so always do your research first if in doubt.

Most sellers on ebay are honest and will mention in the description if the fossil is genuine or a replica. Always research the seller (check their feedback, years on ebay etc) before buying. Again watch out for sellers in China who sell fake amber (with creatures in), dinosaur egs etc....  there are always quite a few of them in the Australian fossil listings. Basically, safer to avoid Chinese fossil sellers....  the fossils are either fake or illegal!

Remember, fossils are VERY old .... so always treat them with care. Most are very fragile and so it is best to store them behind glass or in a box so that they are not accidentally broken and so that dusting and cleaning can be kept to a minimum.

Fossils make great educational gifts for the child or grandchild. Children get immense enjoyment from collecting fossils (especially dinosaur ones!) and encourages them to do further study. It's also a sobering thought when you are holding a fossil from an animal or plant that was living so many years ago....  gives you a broader perspective on things.

Top 12 Fossils to Collect

The following is a list of the 12 'must have' fossils to collect. Most will be relatively easy to find searching on ebay, but some may take a bit more effort....  but it will be worth it.

  1. Spinosaurus Tooth - Morocco. This is a fairly easy to find dinosaur tooth. The spinosaurus (or sailfin dinosaur) had a huge sail on it's back. Fans of the Jurassic Park movies will be familiar with this one.
  2. Shark Tooth - Morocco or USA. Every collection needs a fossil shark tooth or two. There are many species,- from the small (less than a cm in size) to ones that are 6 to 8 inches or more in size!
  3. Fossil Wood - many localities. Another easy one to find. When polished can form a spectacular display piece.
  4. Trilobite - Morocco or USA. One of the earliest sea creatures. Some very finely detailed specimen can be found on ebay.
  5. Ammonite - Morocco, England, Germany or Madagascar. There are many types of ammonites. Our favourite is the pyrite replaced type from Germany.
  6. Orthoceras - Morocco. Another sea creature,- a type of nautiloid. Try and find one still on the original rock matrix.
  7. Fossil Fish - USA. Many excellent specimen come from Wyoming in the US. The knightia species is a common one, but you can also find other exquisite examples.
  8. Amber - Baltics. Insects are often found in amber,- fossilized pine resin. Be careful here as insects are often put in amber artificially.
  9. Mammoth - Canada or USA. A fragment of mammoth tusk or tooth is always an interesting conversation piece to have on ones collection.
  10. Dinosaur Bone - USA. On ebay you can find many types of dinosaur bones,- from fragments to whole skeletons!
  11. Mosasaur Tooth - Morocco. A large prehistoric marine reptile. The teeth are quite impressive and inexpensive.
  12. Dinosaur Poo - USA. Coprolite (or 'dino poo') always gets plenty of attention, so it is a 'must have' for your fossil collection. You'll be amazed how many people will try and smell it!


    Fossil Fish - dastilbe sp.                               Coprolite - fossil 'dino poo'



      Fossil Shark Tooth                          Fossil Dinosaur Tooth - spinosaurus sp.



                 Trilobite                                            Ammonite - pyrite replaced


Insect in Amber


There are often starter fossil collections on ebay which will help the budding paleontologist on their way. Collecting is fun! And ebay makes it easy!


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