Learning More About Dinosaurs

How to Find Dinosaur Bones

How is modern technology helping map and study dinosaur fossil finds?

At a dig site, the exact location of fossil discoveries can now be determined using a Global Positioning System (GPS), an instrument that uses satellite technology to pinpoint a location on Earth. This instrument is now readily available to even amateur fossil hunters; for professionals (and sometimes advanced amateurs) GPS use eliminates errors due to poor maps, shifting landmarks, and inaccurate compass readings. To further understand uncovered fossils, the orientation and distribution of the bones in all three dimensions can be obtained using Electronic Distance Measurement (EDM) and other survey devices. (There are also some high-resolution GPS systems capable of providing this data.) These instruments minimize the errors inherent in using compasses and tape measures.

There is another advantage to using these techniques: the data can be fed directly into a computer. With the help of such programs as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Computer-Aided Design (CAD), a three-dimensional map of a quarry site, showing the location and orientation of all the bones, can be generated. The paleontologist can then study the site from different orientations, attempting to answer questions such as, “What social structure did these dinosaurs have?” Or, “What caused dinosaur bones to be concentrated in this location?”


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