How to Have an (Authentic) Paleontology Dig

It was during a visit to the Natural History museum that I got the idea to have a Paleontology Dig.  We had already excavated cookies, but this time I wanted to make it as true to life as possible.  There was a display at the museum, showing the latest dinosaur discovery in (would you believe it?) the Surrey Hills!  We live fairly close and were very excited to read all about it.  It detailed the dig from start to finish.

A Paleontology Dig in the Surrey Hills

museum 2

The picture below shows the basic tools Walker used, along with the bones he found:

museum 3

They described how the paleontologists excavated the site, carrying back to the museum large fossils embedded in rock:

museum 5

The process of removing the rock was described:

museum 10

More tools, books and exposed fossils were displayed:

museum 6

museum 9

in addition to some of the sketches the scientists made (righthand side of picture):

museum 7

The display also described the assembly of the final dinosaur, as well as the drawing of the entire skeleton, showing any missing bones in blue:

museum 11

It described how conclusions were reached about its diet based on the shape of the jaw and the contents of its stomach:

museum 12

As well as describing the process the scientists went through to name the dinosaur, basing it on the fossil hunter who originally found it:

Museum 13

This was such a great introduction to excavations, especially meaningful to us as we know the site on which it was found.

In addition to reading about and studying the display of the Baryonyx, we also looked carefully at some of the dinosaur skeletons in the museum which were still immersed in rock:

Museum 1

and another:

Museum 15

This set the scene for a fabulous dig of our own 🙂

Pre-dig Preparation

As we were basing our own dig on the following book, I needed to prepare an area which actually contained some bones to dig up 🙂

Dinosaur Dig 1

I chose an area in the garden and buried the sedimentary rock we made, which also contained ‘dinosaur bones’ large and small (I removed the cling film before burying it!):


Setting up the Work Area on the Day of the Dig 

The little paleontologists got themselves donned out in their ‘paleontologist kit’, which I had prepared for them:

Dinosaur Dig 4

I included their science lab coats, a paleontologist’s hard hat and some paleontologist’s tools we had bought from the Natural History Museum.  I finished it off with some inexpensive Dinosaur data collection books from The Works, a couple of magnifying glasses and extra fossil hunting tools:

Dinosaur Dig 5

How cute do they look?

Dinosaur Dig 8

I also needed to collect all the bits and pieces required to complete all the instructions for a real dinosaur dig as described in the book above.

I gathered an instruction sheet (which I had made up in advance), some packing material (to use instead of straw), a Polaroid camera to take photos of any finds to stick in their data collection book, an egg box to store the small bones in, some plastercast, tissue paper and some pvc glue to use instead of shellac.  A7 also made a storage box for the bigger bones from a Fairy Tabs laundry soap box:

Dinosaur Dig 6

Dinosaur Dig 7

To make the little paleontologists’ job easier, I precut tissue paper and plaster cast strips as well as providing a bowl of water to wet the plaster cast with:

Dinosaur Dig 10

NOW we were ready to go!  I have pretty much shown things in the order they were done.

  1. The girls got digging!  They carried away earth and rubble to uncover bones which I had set in the sedimentary rock:                                                                                                             Dinosaur Dig 11As they found the bones and fossil-containing rock they set it to one side:Dinosaur Dig 12
  2. The girls lay out the bones and rock segments (containing smaller bones) carefully on the table:Dinosaur Dig 13
  3. They drew the bones in their data collection books:Dinosaur Dig 14
  4. And took photos of them to add to their books also:Dinosaur Dig 15
  5. The girls took it in turns to preserve their bones ready for transport back to the ‘museum’  To do this they first brushed the larger bones with shellac (we used pva glue).  The shellac (or pva glue) strengthens the bone:Dinosaur Dig 16
  6. Then covered the larger bones in tissue paper to protect them:Dinosaur Dig 17
  7. And finally they placed wet plaster cast strips over bone the bone to protect them and prevent damage during transit back to the laboratory.  This plaster cast would harden encasing the bone with a rock hard shell:Dinosaur Dig 18 Dinosaur Dig 19 The bones were left to dry in the sun so that their casing was very hard and very protective: Dinosaur Dig 20
  8. They were then packed away, in straw, in the storage box (we used packing material from Easter):DSC_0757 DSC_0758
  9. The little paleontologists then examined the small bones carefully:Dinosaur Dig 22
  10. And wrapped them in tissue paper: Dinosaur Dig 23 and carefully placed them into match boxes, labeling each bone with a number (we used an empty egg box):Dinosaur Dig 24
  11. Once back at the museum they began to make replicas of each of the bones to send to other museums.  This was done by using a plastocene mold which the bones had been pressed into:DSC_0759 DSC_0760 DSC_0761  DSC_0762And the final bones to be sent away………DSC_0781Coooooel!  Sometimes home schooling ROCKS!!

Next week I will be posting about our Sauropod learning where we focused on my very favourite dinosaur, the Diplodocus.


  1. It is neat that you got them to encase the bones and the like gor transport. If you do this again, I would only add using the grid method. Very cool!

  2. Oh the wonderful places and experiences you’ve created for your kiddos! You could start your own business with these history immersion programs you put together for your kids. I am truly impressed and amazed.

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