Field kit

Since I’ve been covering work in the field a bit here I thought I’d deal with the kind of kit that I was taking out every day during my time there. This looks like quite a bit, but to be honest it’s mostly small and light and of course not all of it would be taken every day (I rarely took the shovel out unless I knew I’d need it), and several things are effectively duplicates. It is therefore not exactly a model for others to use when going out into the filed, but should give an idea of what you might need and what you would do with it when out there actively searching for fossils (and not necessarily collecting them, hence the lack of plaster, picks and shovels etc. this is for prospecting, not digging). Of course this is purely the ‘palaeo’ gear and you need to take other things with you according to the conditions like clothing, water, suntan lotion etc. So:

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Folding shovel – I don’t usually both with this unless I’m more or less sure to need it as while small and light, when prospecting you rarely need to do any serious digging so it’s typically unnecessary, but well worth having around.

Scraper / palate knife – something to lift off fine layers of rock or work into narrow gaps can be useful. Basically just there as a more delicate version of:

Chisel – obviously there to crack / lever rocks apart and lift heavy items. Again I don’t carry this all the time as prospecting is about looking and checking things on the surface without serious digging / excavating.

Screwdriver – another chisel analogue useful for small jobs, but also very good for working around small delicate pieces with some precision. An awl can be just as good though better for harder rocks, while I prefer a screwdriver for softer clays or sandstones.

Hammer – pretty essential really for hammering chisels etc. rock splitting and the rest. I have a geological hammer with a flat chisel-shaped head at the back which I find useful for scraping away at sandstones though more people have a rounded spike on the rear.

Tissue paper – field ‘emergencies’ LINK aside, this is for wrapping up small pieces of bone to protect them while getting them back to the camp.

Knife & whistle – together only as they share a key-ring. A good penknife is always handy in the field and the whistle is good for attracting attention of your colleagues when you need help with something and you can’t see where people are in the valleys of the fieldsite.

Bandage – just a single plaster bandage for making small jackets on the fly. Handy when it’s a medium-sized but fragile block. Too small to just wrap up in paper, but too big to carry loose.

Water – to make the bandage up with.

Glue – for fixing broken pieces at hand. I’d prefer a good consolidant that can be easily removed later, but I’ll admit that superglue does penetrate very well into rock and bone and does dry very fast.

Goggles – essential in a sandstorm, but more generally useful when digging and the dust starts flying.

Brush – I seem to spend more time brushing dust off of specimens than anything else in the field. Absolutely essential (even with a broken handle).

Paper and pen – for writing down what you found where and when and how and any other details. It’s amazing what you can forget over even a few hours so write it down at the time. Especially make sure you keep a record of:

GPS – for taking points of where you found things (and the base-camp is also a good thing to have too). Write things down too in case of loss of one or the other.

Gloves – not essential but helpful when handling sharp rocks or local flora (and in my case fauna too – gloves are nice when chasing down snakes or scorpions) or doing heavy lifting etc.

Specimen bags (not shown because I didn’t have any on me when I took the picture) – to put your finds in. Mark them up at once with what they contain for easy reference and ideally drop in a piece of paper with the GPS coordinates on them.

Camera (not shown for obvious reasons) – to register specimens, sites of interest and keep track of what you are doing (if you beak something badly it’s very handy to have a photo of what it was like before).

So there you have it. It’s really not actually too much to carry around, even if I take all of this stuff with me (which is rare) it only comes to a few kilos (probably only about 4) though of course carrying even that around for five hours at a time can still be tiring (plus of course food and water etc.) if you spend 11 months of the year behind a desk. None of this is really essential, go looking with just your eyes in the right places and you can find something worth collecting and go back to base to collect whatever you need, though of course in practice it’s far better to get a photographic and GPS record and take back a carefully excavated sample. These tools will get you a long way towards that goal and a bit of practical experience will leave you well equipped to face most of the basic challenges of prospecting for fossils.

1 Response to “Field kit”


  1. 1 Mark Wildman 10/07/2009 at 3:37 am

    Nice article. The only difference between your field kit and mine is that I have a couple of awls where you have a screwdriver. Incidentally, totally agree with you about the folding shovel – a really useful tool.
    I always thought I was taking too much but obviously not, and you are right about the food and water – that is where the weight comes in!


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