Fossil identification: how do the pros do it?

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    Nathan Newell

    This is kind of a more general question regarding identification. I’ve been trying to identify some brachiopods and, as an amateur, I’m having difficulty finding resources, either online or in print, that are helpful. So I’m wondering: how do professional paleontologists go about identifying fossils like brachiopods? Do they have some kind of online resource or book that they use for identification? Thanks!

    Sadie Mills

    Hi @nathan-newell, this is a great question! I am tagging a couple of people who are very knowledgeable about brachiopods: @jbauer @alycia-stigall @rebecca-freeman. They may have some resources to suggest!



    Nathan Newell

    Great, thanks!

    Jennifer Bauer

    Thanks, @sadie-mills!

    Hi, @nathan-newell – There are a few online resources I suggest you check out but many of them are rock age dependent but should be able to help you narrow down your search.

    1. Ordovician Atlas has a brachiopod specific section that will take you through icons of the groups and hopefully help you visually identify the specimens but again the taxa are specific to the region but have similar species elsewhere.
    2. The Dry Dredgers have a fossil identification section for brachiopods and a page with helpful links for collectors but generally the same age material as the Ordovician Atlas.
    3. The Digital Atlas of Ancient Life encompasses the Ordovician Atlas but also has Pennsylvanian material as well for the midcontinent U.S region. This will give you some different groups and more images to hopefully help narrow your search!
    4. I usually start with 1-3 for getting group identifications and then move toward the Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology – this is a series of volumes with all of the brachiopod genera with lots of images and diagrams. These books are incredibly detailed and if you can narrow down what you are looking for poking through the pages helps you get better IDs. I’m not sure if local libraries have copies but you may be able to chat with a librarian or head to a local university to see if they have access. Many geology departments will have hard copies, they may be the older version (brachiopods were revised not too long ago, so new volumes came out) but they are helpful regardless of volume. There are pdfs and hardcopies available for purchase but they are pricey.
    5. Sometimes it’s also often easier to ask a friend, post an image here on myFOSSIL, or in a facebook group – there are TONS of really active (lots of photos per day) fossil groups on facebook that have really sharp people (collectors and professionals) commenting.

    Hope this is helpful!

    Nathan Newell

    Wow, thanks! That was extremely helpful!

    Alycia Stigall

    I second all of Jen’s comments–that is a fantastic list!  One addition point I would note is that members of the Paleontological Society have free online access to the Treatise on Invertebrate paleontology as a membership benefit.  If you are a member, then you already can access this via the member’s login page.  If you aren’t a member, the PS recently added a membership category for amateur paleontologists.

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