Searching for dinosaurs

From the very outset, we need to approach the search for dinosaurs systematically. On the basis of what we have learned so far, it is first necessary to check where to find rocks of the appropriate age by consulting geological maps of the country that is of interest. It is equally important to ensure that the rocks are of a type that is at least likely to preserve the remains of land animals; so some geological knowledge is required in order to predict the likelihood of finding dinosaur fossils, especially when visiting an area for the first time.

Mostly, this involves developing a familiarity with rocks and their appearance in the area being investigated; this is rather similar to the way in which a hunter needs to study intently the terrain in which the prey lives. It also requires the development of an 'eye' for fossils, which comes simply from looking until fossil fragments are eventually recognized, and this takes time.

Discovery provides the adrenaline-rush of excitement, but is also the time when the discoverer needs to be most circumspect. All too M often fossil discoveries have been ruined, scientifically speaking, in | the frantic rush to dig the specimen up, so that it can be displayed £ by its proud finder. Such impatience can result in great damage to the fossil itself. Even worse, the object might be part of a larger skeleton that might be far more profitably excavated carefully by a larger team of trained palaeontologists. And, as the sleuth might point out, the rocks in which the fossil was embedded may also have important tales to tell concerning the circumstances under which the animal died and was buried, in addition to the more obvious information concerning the actual geological age of the specimen.

The search for, and discovery of, fossils can be a personally exciting adventure as well as a technically fascinating process. However, finding fossils is just the beginning of a process of scientific investigation that can lead to an understanding of the biology and way of life of the fossilized creature and the world in which it once lived. In this latter respect, the science of palaeontology exhibits some similarities to the work of the forensic pathologist: both clearly share an intense interest in understanding the circumstances surrounding the discovery of a body, and use science to interpret and understand as many of the clues as possible in an effort to leave, quite literally, no stone unturned.

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