The Division of Vertebrate Paleontology has at least one fossil collecting session per year that uses volunteer assistance.
This will generally be during the drier and cooler times of the year, either spring or fall. Age limits and physical requirements will vary depending on the conditions at the particular fossil site we are working.
Follow the Montbrook Fossil Dig Blog to join in on the fun! (Photo galleries, videos, updates, featured fossils, etc.)
Preliminary Fall 2021 Digging Information
The exceptionally high rainfall totals of this summer have raised local water tables at the Montbrook Site and submerged the fossil-producing layers. The image below shows how the site looked in late September 2021. Water levels will have to drop by about 3 feet before we can begin to prepare the site for actual excavations. Any additional rain in October will slow this process. We will be regularly monitoring the situation at the site and will adjust the start date accordingly. Information on how to volunteer will likely be posted at this web page sometime in middle October.
A Fall 2021 field season at Montbrook will happen, most likely starting in middle November. An exact starting date has not yet been set. This fall we will work at the site three days per week, on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays. Due to the continuing pandemic, the number of volunteers working each day will remain small to allow for greater distance between each digger.
Masks must be worn at all times while at the site.
There is no cost to volunteer. However, if you wish to contribute money to help us maintain our annual volunteer fossil digs and to process and store the collected fossils, you can use this secure link to donate online. Donations through the UF Foundation are tax deductible.
Our all-vaccinated crew worked five days per week from January 27 to May 8, a total of 50 working days. Daily volunteers generally numbered a third to a half of those we had back in 2016-2019, and was mostly comprised of a crew of regulars. Tammy and Ken Marks led the way with 146 hours worked over 22 days. Together 30 volunteers contributed 1,111 hours, obviously a major increase over 2020. Ten museum staff persons and students added another 531 hours.
Some highlights from the Spring 2021 season:
- Our luck with alligators continued with two more skulls (Ken Marks and Tracy Buttermore), a lower jaw (Sharon Lord), and an articulated skeleton with skull and jaws (Robert Tarnuzzer).
- A fine peccary mandible and humerus were found by Tammy Marks.
- Additional specimens discovered by Ken Marks included a gomphothere pelvis and femur, a mastodon maxilla, a juvenile gomphothere lower jaw, and a partial soft-shell turtle carapace.
- A very large proboscidean scapula was collected by Steven Munger and William Sewell.
- An ulna of a large raccoon, very similar to that of Procyon megalokolos, an extinct species from the early Pleistocene of Florida was found by Marcia Rentschler. First record of raccoon from the site.
- And the streak continues! Jason Bourque added a radius to his Rhizosmilodon skeleton. What will he find next season?
Going into the Spring 2020 field season we had ambitious plans to dig at two sites, Montbrook and Thomas Farm, even planning to work at both sites on some days. Because of the Covid pandemic, there were far fewer numbers of persons and digging dates at Montbrook during 2020 than in any previous year. Water levels were also often high, so that when we did do some excavations at Montbrook, we were forced to work in higher regions on the western margin of the site, especially in the fall. We ended up only digging 12 days during the spring of 2020 and 19 days during the fall. Ten volunteers put in about 100 hours during early March of 2020. Fourteen volunteers, mostly regulars from prior seasons, wearing masks and physically distancing, managed to work 352 hours during the fall season. Despite these limitations, we found productive areas to dig, and made 19 plaster jackets during the spring and 14 during the fall.
Some highlights from 2020 at Montbrook:
- Alligators were again common, including recovery of three skulls (Jon Bloch, Mary Lynch, and John Freund) and two sets of right and left lower jaws (Aaron Woodruff and Tracy Buttermore).
- UF student Katelyn Gant found the lower jaws of a large (male?) subadult gomphothere.
- Jason Bourque continued his streak of adding to his Rhizosmilodon skeleton, recovering a femur and a tibia.
In the fall of 2019, we excavated at Montbrook from November 1 to 26, working 6 days per week. Because we were rained out one day, we worked 22 days at the site this session. One hundred eleven different volunteers worked a total of 1,366.5 person hours. The top ten in terms of numbers of hours worked were Anthony Campins, Susan Harris, John Helling, Bob Kellogg, Sharon Lord, Garrett Munger, Judy Peterson, Marcia Rentschler, Dean Warner, and Michele Wilbanks. Judy Peterson continued to lead the way, with 79.25 hours worked over 14 days. To date, slightly over 2,700 fossils from this session have been cleaned, sorted, identified, and cataloged. This means that we collected on average over 123 identifiable fossils per day. This number will increase greatly as the smaller fossils from the bags of sediments collected during this season are identified and cataloged.
Some highlights from this season:
- We made 28 plaster jackets this season. Among them were three more alligator lower jaws (found by Jason Bourque, Ruthelen Cox, and Richard Hulbert) and two femora (Susan Harris and Bonnie Kircher). Dean Warner found a carapace of a soft-shelled turtle. Gomphothere finds included a juvenile tibia (Cindy Lockner), molar (Michele Wilbanks), humerus and radius (Ray Greiner), femur (Emilee McGann), and scapula (Judy Peterson).
- Jason Bourque added to the stash of Rhizosmilodon limb and foot bones he collected in the Spring of 2019, finding a complete humerus on November 20.
- UF graduate student Mitchell Riegler discovered the most spectacular fossil of the season, a partial skull of the giant otter Enhydritherium with an almost complete set of teeth.
- 16 K-12 science teachers from across Florida dug at Montbrook on November 23.
In the spring of 2019 we excavated at Montbrook from March 1 to 28. One hundred fifteen volunteers worked a total of 1,415 person-hours. Students and instructors from Northwest Florida State College and the College of Central Florida plus high school students in the Gainesville Youth Fossil Club contributed 429 total person-hours at the site. Florida Museum staff and UF paleontology students worked at Montbrook for an additional 558 hours.
Our top volunteers, who each worked 35 or more hours were: Bill Buhi, Larry Jensen, Sharon Lord, Mary Lynch, Donna McCullough, Garrett and Steven Munger, Judy Peterson, Carol and Bill Sewell, Dean Warner, and Michele Wilbanks. Judy Peterson gets to claim top honors for most hours worked (79.25), accumulated over 15 different days. This means she volunteered for over half of all possible days this session! Thank you all so much for your dedication and to the Hodge family for allowing us continued access to the site.
Some highlights from this season:
- Early in the dig volunteer Rebecca Cook found a concentration of thin bone fragments that proved to be the braincase of a gomphothere skull. It took two weeks to dig around what eventually proved to be a relatively complete, adult skull with slightly worn third molars and at least one tusk. The large plaster jacket containing the skull was ably carried out of the site by the sand mine’s excavator skillfully driven by Tim Wilkerson.
- Museum preparator Jason Bourque took time out from collecting turtle specimens to recover about 20 beautifully preserved bones from the left front foot of a leopard-sized cat, as well as few bones from the right front foot and one from the right hind foot. Just based on size, these most likely belong to the primitive sabertoothed cat Rhizosmilodon, but detailed study is needed for a definitive identification. UPDATE: yes, they belong to Rhizosmilodon!
- Judy Peterson discovered a complete, right upper third molar of the pronghorn Hexameryx simpsoni. This is only the third tooth of this species found at Montbrook. As one of the other two is also a right upper third molar (found in 2017), that means we know that at least two individuals of this species are present at the site.
- Three complete bird bones were recovered this session. Two are from grebes, an ulna (found by Cindy Lockner) and a femur (found by David Cox); while the third is a tarsometatarsus from a cormorant (Mary Lynch).
- A total of 51 plaster jackets were made and successfully collected this season. They include one alligator skull and four lower jaws and numerous turtle shells including three from tiny musk turtles and a complete alligator snapping turtle shell with articulated limbs bones, neck and tail vertebrae, and skull.
This fall we excavated at Montbrook from November 7 to December 9. One hundred ten volunteers worked a total of 1,426 person-hours in 24 days! Museum staff and UF paleontogy students dug for an additional 715 hours. This despite unusually hot weather at the start of the season and cold, rainy days towards the end.
Our top volunteers, who each worked 20 or more hours were: David Cox, John Freund, Susan Harris, John Helling, Vickie Jacobs, Larry Jensen, Sharon Lord, Ken and Tammy Marks, Melanie Masdea, Donna McCullough, Garrett and Steven Munger, Judy Peterson, Deborah Poulalion, Arnold Sacco, Carol and Bill Sewell, Dean Warner and Michele Wilbanks. Like last spring, Susan Harris narrowly surpassed Carol and Bill Sewell to claim top honors for most hours worked (71.5). While many of those names are holdovers from prior seasons, it is also great to be able to add some new names to the top volunteers list. Thank you all so much for your dedication to the fossil site and to the Hodge family for allowing us continued access to the site and working to solve our drainage problems!
Some highlights from this season:
- Sue Tennant found a nearly complete lower jaw of the lynx-like cat “Felis” rexroadensis. It is more complete than any previously known specimen of this species from Florida. Previously the species was known from Montbrook by just a single isolated tooth and a tibia.
- Michele Wilbanks discovered a partial skull of the peccary Protherohyus brachydontus. This is the second skull of this species found at Montbrook, and just the third known from Florida. Its relative completeness won’t be known until it is prepared out of its plaster jacket, but most of the teeth are present.
- On the very last scheduled digging day, Jaiden Torres collected a nearly complete bird leg bone that our avian paleontologist David Steadman has identified as the first fossil from an ibis to be found at Montbrook, and a possible new species.
- Another concentration of proboscidean fossils were collected within a relatively small area about 5 meters long and 4 meters wide. These included two skulls, one with both tusks and the other with one of its tusks, and three sets of paired right and left lower jaws. All three of the mandibles appear to be relatively complete and lack much of the crushing that has distorted many of the previously collected specimens. One of the skulls and two of the mandibles are from the gomphothere family of proboscideans; the identity of the others awaits preparation to reveal their teeth. All five specimens were initially discovered by volunteers. Congratulations go out to Susan Harris, Steven Munger, Larry Jenson, Cryatal Diaz and Ryan Thompson for finding these great specimens.
- A total of 40 plaster jackets were made and successfully collected this season. They ranged in size from that of a coffee cup for a skull of the turtle Trachemys to a six-foot-long monster containing a proboscidean skull that had to be carried out of the site by one of the excavators.
208 volunteers, 51 students for course credit, 14 teachers for professional development, and 38 Florida Museum staff devoted a grand total of 4,977 hours to Montbrook this season! The Spring 2018 digging season ran for 90 days, from Friday, January 19th until Sunday, May 13th.
Many different groups joined us, including students from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, UF students enrolled in Jonathan Bloch’s Florida Vertebrate Paleontology course and Laura Cotton’s Invertebrate Paleontology course, exhibits staff of the Florida Museum, High school students of the Gainesville Youth Fossil Club, and members of the Florida Paleontological Society.
Check out our Museum Voices blog for Florida Vertebrate Paleontology student content from their experiences digging at Montbrook this season.
Thanks so much to everyone who has volunteered their time at Montbrook! None of this would’ve happened without your help. A special thanks to those volunteers who helped with the final push to remove those last large specimens and who worked over 30 hours this season. These people include (in alphabetical order): William Buhi, David Cox, Joshua Doby, David Evans, Joseph Fulco, Ben Grubbs, Susan Harris, John Helling, Daniel Ibison, Maya Ibison, James Kendrick, Sharon Lord, Margaret Messineo, Paula Mitchell, Robert Mitchell, Garrett Munger, Steven Munger, Andrew Puckett, Carol Sewell, William Sewell, Sharon, Shears, Emily Sonnenberg, Maryan Stubbs, , Dean Warner, and Judith Wilbanks. Susan Harris wins the award for most volunteer hours at 152.25 this season; this is not including the hours she also spends preparing fossils back at the museum! Thank you Susan! Second place goes to Garrett Munger at 123.25 hours this season, which is also incredible because he is in high school and plans to volunteer in the collection this Summer! Also a huge thank you to all Florida Museum vertebrate paleontology staff and students who make this possible!
From October 5th to December 18th, Montbrook has seen 177 volunteers digging 5 days per week, for a grand total of 2,170 person-hours in 53 days!
Our top volunteers, putting in over 30 hours and uncovering the most fossils, include William Buhi, David Cox, Joshua Doby, Sherry Harmon, Susan Harris, John Helling, Cindy Lockner, Sharon Lord, Christopher McAleer, Margaret Messineo, Carol Sewell, William Sewell, Sharon Shears, and Michele Wilbanks. Carol Sewell, William Sewell, and Susan Harris volunteered over 100 hours each!
Thank you all so much for your dedication to the fossil site and to the property landowner for allowing us such access!
Some highlights from this season:
The very first day of digging following the summer break, a baby gomphothere skeleton was exposed. Since then it’s been Gomph-A-Palooza.
We celebrated our two-year anniversary, expanded the pit, prepared plaster jackets for the public in the Florida Museum’s 100-Year Anniversary exhibit, cataloged our 10,000th specimen, and hosted a tour of the site for our youngest group yet, the Earth Sciences class of East Marion Elementary.
We plan to dig 84 days for the Spring 2018 season. Imagine the possibilities!
Top volunteers at Montbrook between 10/1/16 and 5/21/17, each with 50 or more hours volunteered are: Bill Buhi, Ella Cooney, Jerry Donaldson, David Evans, Sherry Harmon, John Helling, Cindy Lockner, Sharon Lord, Mary Lynch, Amanda Ploener, Carol Sewell, Bill Sewell, Sharon Shears, Bob Tarnuzzer, Terry Tydings, Dean Warner, Michele Wilbanks, and Patricia Williams. The honor for most hours worked is shared by Carol and Bill Sewell, both with 293 hours.
Total number of volunteers who worked at the site between 10/1/16 and 5/21/17 is 380, who collectively visited the site a total of 1139 times and worked a total of 5,428 hours.This is 59% of the total hours put into the excavation at Montbrook. The effort by volunteers, FLMNH staff, students, and teachers during the season resulted in a total of 9,221 hours worked.
Thanks to our unusually dry weather, we only had 3 days rained out, two of those because of Hurricane Matthew early in October. Therefore, we had even more possible days to excavate fossils than anticipated. Collectively 168 different volunteers participated in the dig this season, contributing over 1,800 hours of work at the site and finding many thousands of fossils, including the first skull from a carnivore found at Montbrook. We thank again all those who came out and worked with us, in good weather or bad, to make this dig another great success.
Twenty volunteers worked at the site for 20 or more hours (some much more), and we want to especially acknowledge their efforts. They are William Buhi, Suzanne Conner, Ella Cooney, Jerry Donaldson, David Evans, Alexander Gerasimov, Mackenzie Goode, Kara Ericson, John Helling, Cindy Lockner, Sheila Lucas, Mary Lynch, Amanda Ploener, Peter Roode, Sharon Shears, Karen Stansell, Dean Warner, Lee Williams, Nancy Williams, and Patricia Williams.