How do you dig up dinosaurs?

Digging up dinosaurs

Many museums have one or more real dinosaur skeletons, but did you know that it is very difficult to find them? Dinosaurs lived so long ago that the remains of most dinosaurs have simply decayed. The bodies of dinosaurs simply begin to dissolve when they die. In a very small number of cases, however, remains of a dead dinosaur are preserved, and we call these remains fossils. On this page you can read how these dinosaur fossils are formed and how they are excavated.


dinosaurussen opgraven

The origin of fossils

Fossils can only form under very specific conditions. First, it helps a lot if a dinosaur is buried in sand, earth or water as soon as possible after it dies. Dinosaurs did not have funerals, so if that happened it was purely coincidental. In certain types of soil, the bodies are very well preserved. It is especially important that no oxygen or moisture can reach the dinosaur, while low temperatures and a lot of salt in the soil can also help preserve the remains better. When a dinosaur is buried for a long time, new layers of soil will form on top of it. This puts more and more pressure on the dinosaur and the surrounding soil. Eventually, the soil around the dinosaur will petrify and the dinosaur itself will become part of this rock. When this happens, and the dinosaur is completely stuck in this rock, it has become a fossil. Examples of types of rocks in which dinosaur fossils are often found are limestone and sandstone. Often, with this type of rock you can still see the compressed layers of soil!

Finding dinosaur fossils

We now know how fossils are formed, but how do we find them? Of course, they can be found anywhere. This is partly why it is so difficult to find dinosaur skeletons. A few things can help in the search, though. Unless you are looking for the remains of, for example, the plesiosaur, which were roaming the seas, there is no point to look for dinosaur bones in rocks that have formed underwater. Nor is there any point to search in places with no rocks on the surface, such as most places in the Netherlands. If you have to dig a hundred metres deep before you can find dinosaurs, you will never find anything! So you have to look for a place where exactly the right rocks are at the surface, and only a few places in the world are suitable for that. The best known places are the Gobi Desert in Mongolia and China, the Midwest of the United States and certain areas in Argentina. Deserts are perfect for this, because you can see almost everywhere! There is no vegetation to cloud your view, and you can  you can actually dig anywhere without buildings in the way, for example.

The excavation

Once you see a dinosaur bone in the ground, you have to be very careful, because often they are quite fragile after such a long time under the ground. It is best to dig around the bone as carefully as possible, and then wrap the whole thing in plaster. This way, the bones can be safely transported to the laboratory, where the bones are cleaned and the research begins. If you are lucky, you will find a couple of bones stuck together. This makes it easier to make a model of the skeleton. If you only find individual bones, it becomes a big puzzle. Once you find a complete skeleton, you can look at muscle growth and the size of the dinosaur. This is how you can get a very good idea of what dinosaurs looked like, but of course there are still many questions to be answered. Will you be a dinosaur researcher one day?

Dig up a dinoskeleton yourself?

In the Dino Experience Park you can dig up parts of dinosaur skeletons yourself! Want to know more about what you can do in our Dino Park? Discover the park here!


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Hoe graaf je een dinosaurusskelet op