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Preparation of Bone and Fossil Finds

Though many public areas, including Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and National Park Service and National Forest Service lands in Nebraska, have specific laws prohibiting the removal of artifacts from their lands, one may find an alternative place to “hunt” with private landowner permission. Then, if you’re lucky enough to discover an artifact, here is a quick guide to preparation of your finds.

Preparation of Bone and Fossil Finds

By Jon Morgenson

Some fossils and bones or skulls may be found in a good, solid state of preservation where they need no more than gentle water rinsing and then left to air dry before being displayed. Other finds, however, especially if they have undergone repeated wetting/ drying cycles and outdoor weathering, may need a little more attention.

One method that has worked well for me is to give the ‘find’ a good but gentle cleaning with water and a nylon bristle brush, removing all mud, dirt and sand or gravel. Be careful if the fossil or bone is weak and crumbling, making sure to capture any pieces that fall off during this process. Following washing, the fossil or bone should be air dried in a protected location. When it is completely dried, re-attach any loose pieces with Duco cement (hobby type glue with an acetone base) and dry again.

The final step is applying a hardener, referred to as a consolident by professionals. This is done to harden the entire fossil or bone, not just the exterior surface. For this reason, white or school glues (even diluted) are not a good choice because they only provide an outer coating and do not penetrate, allowing the fossil or bone to possibly crumble from within.

A good choice for home preparation is a mixture of one part white shellac diluted with five parts denatured alcohol. The alcohol acts to carry the shellac deeply into the fossil and harden it throughout. Multiple applications can be made until the hardener is no longer being absorbed.

Photo by Jeff Kurrus/NEBRASKAland Magazine
Photo by Jeff Kurrus/NEBRASKAland Magazine

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