Dinosaur Fossil Guide
Buying Dinosaur Fossils
A Beginners Guide
If you're new to fossil collecting, getting started can be quite a daunting experience. In this guide, I hope to provide novice collectors with a brief description of some of the most common dinosaur fossils on the market.
It should be noted that most of the dinosaur fossils available to purchase online today come from a handful of productive dinosaur beds. If dinosaur fossils are scarce in a rock formation, it's often not commercially viable to collect them. In other cases, collecting from certain sites is restricted or prohibited. In the case of countries such as China, the export of dinosaur fossils is restricted entirely. For these reasons, dinosaurs from these areas will not be readily available to collectors.
However, some sites such as the Hell Creek Formation in North America and the Kem Kem Beds in Morocco, are famous for their dinosaur fossils and fossils from these areas are easily purchased - hence, most of those dinosaur fossils you'll come across online or at rock/gem shows will belong to a small number of known dinosaur species. I've listed many of these species below, all found in highly fossiliferous deposits and easily purchased. I've also thrown in a few reptiles, sometimes mistakenly referred to as dinosaurs, as some of these are very affordable and popular with collectors.
Dinosaurs listed Below:
- Raptors (Dromaeosaurs)
- Tyrannosaurus Rex
With an armoured body and a large club on its tail, Ankylosaursus is one
of the most recognizable dinosaurs of the Late Cretaceous. It lived
alongside the likes of Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex and, like these
dinosaurs, their remains are well documented and can be found in the
Hell Creek and Lance Creek formations of North America. However, unlike
Triceratops, Ankylosaurus fossils are found far less frequently and
they're one of the rarer herbivorous found in these areas.
Ankylosaurs had small, leaf-shaped teeth, with denticles on either side. Most teeth are small, generally around
1cm or less, and 'spitter'
teeth (those worn down via natural feeding wear and shed) are most
common. A small, worn tooth will usually cost at least £15, and more complete teeth can cost considerably more. Aside
from teeth, armour plates (or "scutes") are also some of the more
common Ankylosaur fossils you'll come across online. These armour
plates can vary in price, according to size and preservation, but you
can usually expect to pay anywhere between £30-100.
Often misrepresented by dealers as an "African - T. rex", Carcharodontosaurus was of no relation to rex, but is still an impressive creature in its own right. Carcharodontosaurus lived approximated 30 million years before T. rex and may have been larger than rex, if not heavier.
Carcacharodontosaurus fossils are found in abundance in the Kem Kem deposits of North Africa, along with its contemporary, another huge carnivore, Spinosaurus. However, the two carnivores favored different types of prey, Spinosaurus hunting fish, whilst Carcharodontosaurus sported blade like teeth, ideal for slashing into the flesh of herbivorous dinosaurs.
Given their adaptation for slicing through flesh, Carcharodontosaurus teeth are very cool fossils and can be purchased for a relatively affordable price, given their abundance. An impressive, 2 inch tooth can often be purchased for around £100-150, with smaller teeth starting at as little as £20. Compare this to T. rex teeth
which can start at around £500 and go up to
several thousand and you'll see that Carcharodontosaurus teeth prove to be much better
value for money.
Aside from teeth, you may sometimes come across small bones or vertebrae labelled as "Carcharodontosaurus". Whilst a skilled dealer may be able to hazard a guess at a complete vertebra, other bones (especially if found in isolation) are impossible to identify and are often labelled "Spinosaurus" or "Carcharodontosaurus" in order to achieve a higher price tag. Always bear in mind that there has been relatively little work published on North African dinosaurs and, hence, when it comes to bones, its often impossible to identify them. Therefore, when it comes to North African fossils, it's advisable that new collectors stick to dinosaur teeth and for the most part steer clear of dinosaur bones from this region (unless, of course, you're happy with a fossil simply labelled "theropod bone").
Coelophysis is one of the earliest known dinosaurs, dating to the late Triassic (roughly 205 million years). It was a carniverous dinosaur, growing up to 3 meters in length. This dinosaur's fossils aren't the most common, but teeth and bones can be purchased online for a decent price, with many coming from sites in New Mexico, USA.
What you might expect to pay for a Coelophysis fossil varies quite a bit. Teeth are usually on the small side, ranging from micro-fossils (a few millimeters) to several
centimeters. Also, as they're less common than most other dinosaur fossils, they tend to be a little pricey for their size, ranging from £6 for a micro-tooth, up to £50 for something larger. Similarly, bones are also relatively rare and vertebrae can range in price from £20-100.
Whilst not the ideal choice if looking to purchase a gift or for those novice collectors wishing to purchase a fossil with "wow-factor", Coelophysis is a fascinating dinosaur and most definitely should not be overlooked.
Edmontosaurus was a herbivorous dinosaur and a contemporary of Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex, being preyed upon by the latter. It lived in the Late Cretaceous, just before the KT extinction event and its fossils are frequently found in the Hell Creek and Lance Creek formations of North America.
When it comes to purchasing dinosaur fossils, those of Edmontosaurus are certainly some of the most cost effective, due to their abundance. Worn, "spitter" teeth (shed whilst the animal was alive) can
be purchased for just a few pounds, with collectors grade teeth costing anywhere from £20-100+. Spitter teeth will resemble those pictured above, whilst unworn teeth are much larger and feature far greater detail.
Similarly, bones are frequently offered by dealers at competitive prices, with vertebrae, sections of rib and jaw bones all available for under £50 (higher grade piece will come with higher price tags).
Sure, it's a marine reptile ... but Mosasaur fossils are a very popular choice for those new to fossil collecting and, thus, this mighty beast (which most certainly is NOT an aquatic dinosaur) must be included.
Mosasaurs, as we've established, are marine reptiles, and were the dominant predators in the oceans at the end of the Cretaceous period. Mosasaurs went extinct along with the dinosaurs during the KT extinction event and their fossils are now found in Cretaceous deposits the world over. The phosphate beds of Morocco are well known for their Mosasaur fossils and most of those on the market today come
from this region, with small to medium sized teeth costing as little as £2-5 each.
As well as teeth, Mosasaur jaws and vertebrae are frequently offered by dealers at affordable prices. However, collectors should beware when purchasing low-cost Mosasaur jaws from Morocco, as many are composites - real Mosasaur teeth composited onto rock with artificial jaws. Reputable dealers will often label these as composites, in which case they can still be good value for money, even if purchased for the teeth alone. Composite jaws are generally priced at around £30, with genuine jaws in excess of this.
Whilst there are lots of Nanotyrannus teeth on the market, this is a dinosaur that's pretty hard to pin down. Considered by some to be juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex, the validity of Nanotyrannus as a genus is a subject of debate amongst palaeontologists. Nevertheless, whether a juvenile rex or its own species, Nanotyrannus teeth are unique - both slimmer, more blade like, and with a greater number of serrations than those of Tyrannosaurus rex.
Nanotyrannus teeth are notably less expensive than those of T. rex, usually ranging between £40 and £200, depending on size and preservation. With this in mind, Nano teeth are an excellent choice for novice collectors who wish to purchase a Tyrannosaur tooth. Nanotyrannus teeth are found in the same beds as T. rex, Triceratops and Edmontosaurus - the Hell creek/Lance Creek formations of North America.
Oviraptor is a theropod dinosaur from Mongolia which lived during the Late Cretaceous period (roughly 75 million years ago). Eggshells, as well as whole eggs (and clutches of eggs) are fairly easy to come by, although I would recommend that the latter is only purchased from a reputable dealer due to the abundance of fake specimens on the market. Fragments of shell can be purchased for just a few pounds, whilst whole eggs will usually cost in the region of £700-1500.
With a large boney dome atop its skull, Pachycephalosaurus is a well known contemporary of Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex, living in the Late Cretaceous period, just before the KT extinction event. Its fossils are found in the Hell Creek and Lance Creek formations of North America but, like Ankylosaurus and Thescelosaurus, is one of the rarer herbiverous dinosaurs found in these beds.
Whilst fossils are readily available from most dealers who specialise in dinosaur fossils, teeth and bones from Pachycephalosaurus are more expensive than those of Triceratops, with teeth ranging between £15-50 and bones,
most often pieces of skull, priced anywhere from £25+ (nice skull knobs can fetch several hundred pounds). It should also be noted that teeth from this dinosaur are quite small, ranging from a few millimeters to 1-2cm.The teeth pictured above are as follows, from left to right:
- unworn tooth with root
- partially worn tooth
- very worn "spitter" tooth
Whilst not dinosaurs, but flying reptiles, Pterosaur teeth are found in some of the world's most famous fossil beds. However, identification can be tricky, especially in areas where little research has been done (such as North Africa), so only buying from a reputable dealer is advised.
All that said, Pterosaur teeth can be purchased from as little as £20, with
micro-teeth from early Pterosaurs (particularly from New Mexico) available for even less. However, when purchasing teeth from the Kem Kem Beds in Morocco, any attempt by dealers to assign species names should be taken with a pinch of salt, as not enough is known about the Pterosaurs in this area to positively ID a species of Pterosaur based on a tooth alone.
Sauropod fossils have been found on every continent on earth, including Antarctica. Sauropods first appeared in the Triassic Period, diversifying in the Jurassic and dying out with the rest of the dinosaurs during the KT extinction event. Many dealers stock sauropod fossils, the most common being sauropod teeth from North Africa, which are easily purchased for anything in the region of £15-40 (larger
specimens demanding higher price tags). Sauropod teeth are typically
peg shaped, often with signs of natural feeding wear to the tip
(pictured above is a tooth with almost no feeding wear). Similarly
sauropod vertebrae from this region can be purchased for £100+, price dependant on the quality of preservation, although buying from a
trusted dealer is recommended.
Spinosaurus was a large carnivorous dinosaur which once roamed the river deltas of what is now North Africa. It hunted fish with its long, peg like teeth - perfect for puncturing the flesh of its prey and lifting it free of the water. Its fossils are frequently found in the Kem Kem Beds of Morocco, alongside those of Charcharodontosaurus.
Whilst Spinosaurus bones are hard to identify and rarely offered commercially, almost every dinosaur fossil dealer will stock Spinosaurus teeth. It's not entirely clear why so many Spinosaurus teeth are
found in the Kem Kem Beds of Morocco, but its habitat, roaming the river banks where teeth stood a good chance of fossilization, likely played a major roll. Either way, Spinosaurus teeth can be extremely inexpensive, something which may come as a shock to novice collectors. Small teeth can be purchased for just a few pounds, with very impressive teeth (upwards of 4 inches) still relatively affordable. Due to the affordability of these fossils, Spinosaurus teeth are perfect for those new to collecting dinosaur fossils!
Thescelosaurus was a genus of small herbivorous dinosaur, living at the end of the Cretaceous period. It's remains are found in the Hell Creek and Lance Creek formations of North America, along with those of Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex.
Looking through most dealers stock lists, you'll find many have Thescelosaurus teeth for sale. Although, as they're relatively rare as
far as herbivores go, they do tend to carry price tags of between
£20-60. What's more, Thescelosaurus teeth are quite small, often
ranging from 0.5cm to 1.5cm. The tooth pictured above is a good
representation of a mostly unworn tooth. Aside from teeth,
vertebrae are quite common and often affordable, with other bones, such
as digits (finger/toe bones) and claws offered on occasion.
Triceratops really needs no introduction. Perhaps the best known species of dinosaur, fossils of this tri-horned herbivore are very common in the Hell Creek and Lance Creek Formation of North America.
Triceratops teeth are some of the most common and affordable dinosaur teeth available to collectors. Teeth range in size and shape, with worn "spitter teeth" (shed whilst the animal was alive) looking notably different to unworn teeth. The teeth pictured above offer a good guide. Shed,
or spitter teeth, are generally priced anywhere between £5-20, depending on size. Larger teeth, especially those with no wear, can fetch much higher price tags.
Aside from teeth, vertebrae, ribs, limb bones, digits, horns and sections of frill are also fairly common. Sections of Triceratops frill are frequently found in these fossil beds and frills often feature intricate grooves, once used to channel blood. Due to their abundance, Triceratops fossils are a great choice for those starting out.
Those new to fossil collecting often make a beeline for Tyrannosaurus rex fossils. After all, who wouldn't like to own a genuine rex tooth? Unfortunately, Tyrannosaurus rex remains are quite rare. Factor in their popularity and it's not surprising rex fossils fetch substantial price tags.
Tyrannosaurus rex fossils are found in the Hell Creek and Lance Creek formations of North America. Most commonly found are teeth, or partial teeth, but even these are quite rare. Teeth can measure anything as small as 1 inch, but are usually in excess of this. It's very hard to positively ID a rex tooth via pictures alone, so buying online can be tricky, but there are some good rules of thumb:
- Look for chunky teeth. Nanotyrannus teeth can look similar to those of rex, but are usually thinner and more blade like. If the base of the tooth is oval or round and it appears chunky in the hand, its probably from a T. rex.
- Serrations should measure less than 20 per centimeter. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but any tooth with less than 20 serrations per centimeter and is over an inch in length is almost certainly a T. rex tooth.
- Be sure to check it was found in the Hell Creek or Lance Creek formations of North America. This is the only place where rex fossils are found. Don't be taken in by Tyrannosaur teeth from older rock formations, such as the Judith River formation, as these will belong to other Tyrannosaurs, such as Albertosaurus and Daspletosaurus. Also beware of dealers labelling teeth "African T. rex." No such dinosaur ever existed and these teeth belong to Carcharodontosaurus.
Aside from teeth, bones are also sometimes offer by dealers, although bones found in isolation are often very hard, if not impossible to identify, so only purchase from the most trusted and experienced dealers.
In summary, it would be easier to say novice collectors
should steer clear of Tyrannosaurus rex fossils, but for those who
insist on jumping into the deep end, the points above should prove