The other day I was watching an episode of Charlie & Lola with some babies. In the episode Charlie, who is Lola's big brother, is quite interested in collecting fossils. Lola, due to proximity, becomes interested in fossils too. While on a fossil expedition, Lola finds what she believes is a fossil, but her brother tells her otherwise. It was at that moment that I realised that I have no idea how to properly identify fossil myself.
The best place to find fossils is in sedimentary rock, rock that has been effected by age and erosion. There are a number of factors required for a fossil to become a fossil. Check out the clip below, describing how fossils are formed.
Collecting fossils is a fairly delicate process. It is forbidden to go digging around some strangers land, pulling up pieces of dirt, bringing them home and tossing them on the coffee table. There is a code of fossil finding ethics. Though it seems obvious enough, the Geological Society established rules of fossil collecting require one to collect responsibly, seek permission from landowners, label specimens, and seek advice on rare finds.
Once you've studied up on all the rules and regulations, it's time to gather your supplies. You will need a hammer, chisel, and a mallet for breaking up rocks. A trowel and brushes will help rid of sediment of various densities. Sieves and mesh bags help with removing excess dirt. And don't forget safety, helmets, goggles, gloves and flashlights.
The next step will be to identify your fossil. I'm clueless as to how to identify an actual fossil. Comparing your discovery with a photo from a book, or a website is probably good for the beginner. I'm guessing the more fossils you acquaint yourself with, the better you will become at identifying them. If you are buying fossils that someone else found it is important to stay away from fakes or fossil fraud. Apparently this happens, I had no idea.
Once you have identified your fossil it is very important to label and code your find. Cleaning and caring for your fossil will only help preserve it. You can use a vinegar soak to help remove remaining sediment. Some fossils still have a bit of tissue intact. In these cases you must be more careful in the cleaning process. Here are some very detailed instructions on cleaning your natural discoveries.
If you are interested in learning more about fossils, I suggest making a trip to your local librarian, asking to point out some fossil finding books for you. An Illustrated Guide to Fossil Collecting is only $9.95 on Amazon.com. The Fossil Hunter offers this great directory of North American fossil collecting sites, broken down by state. And this page offers you so many links to sites offering fossil resources and knowledge.
Get out there and start identifying some fossils!