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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History Logo The Department of Paleobiology - The Life of a Vertebrate Fossil
Level 3 - Preparing the New Find - Prep Lab
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This specimen is straight from the field. It is now waiting to be opened.

To get ready for study, the fossil goes to the Vertebrate Paleontology Preparation Laboratory, where specialists may take from a few days to several years to make the fossil presentable. The amount of time it takes to prepare a fossil depends on:

  • The nature of the matrix-hard, soft, or a combination.
  • The fragility of the bone.
  • The size of the fossil.

Preparator is using an autopsy saw to cut through the plaster jacket to expose the fossil.   A preparator begins to remove sediment matrix from around a vertebrate fossil after opening its protective field jacket.


Fred Grady, Department of Paleobiology volunteer, prepares the skull of a Brontothere. He is using a pin vice in a holder to remove grains of sediment from the 36 million year old fossil bone.

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