In August 2017, some Florida Museum scientists and paleontology volunteers went on a fossil hunting trip to Nebraska. Watch as they “jacket” a complete oreodont skull in the field and prepare it for transport back to the lab. The windy wilds of Nebraska are not ideal for examining fragile fossils, so researchers used a plaster “jacket” to carefully transport the fossil and surrounding soil back to the shelter of a lab for further study.

To “jacket” a specimen, first a paleontologist must find the edges of the fossil. Then he or she carefully digs around the specimen and slightly deeper than the bottom of it to create a “pedestal.” Depending on the size of the fossil, a sturdy layer of plaster bandages or Plaster of Paris and burlap strips are applied to the surface like an inverted bowl and left to dry.

Then the plaster bowl is carefully turned over, using shovels if necessary, so the fossil and surrounding dirt is held inside the bowl. For larger specimens, some of the extra dirt is carefully removed from the plaster “jacket” to make transporting easier. Some fossils are large enough to require cranes and trucks to remove from the site. In this case, the fossil was small enough to be carried back to the lab.

Video features Rachel Narducci, Robert Tarnuzzer (the oreodont skull discoverer) and William Keeler. Filmed by Florida Museum’s Jeff Gage; edited by Barrett Daniel and Rachel Narducci.

Learn more about plaster ‘jackets’ on fossils on our Montbrook dig blog.