Fossil Identification And Classification

Fossil identification can be a challenging proposition. Often a small detail is all that seperates one species from another. Still overall classification system is not so difficult to understand.

Fossils of animals are classified, as are living specimens, by observing the body structures and functions. While there are a few unique challenges in classifying fossils, the basic scheme of organization is the same. Going one step at a time can make fossil identification possible for anyone.

Biological classification systems have a long history. Aristotle, working in ancient Greece, sought to classify animals by comparing the essence of the species. His system was a detailed system that included descriptions of the body. He believed that all species related to earth, air , fire, and water and classified accordingly..

More than a few centuries later, Carolus Linnaeus created another organizational system. His system was hierarchical, with increasingly detailed separations among members of the groups. Today, scientists use more or less the same system.

Living organisms are grouped according to their similar characteristics. Therefore, animals are in a group separate from plants, separate from bacteria, etc.

Breaking down the animal kingdom, the phylum level attempts to put animals into broad categories of similar body types. Phylum Porifera contains animals whose bodies are a collection of cells that loosely come together and are filled with many openings or pores. An example of this is the sponge. Phylum Mollusca all have soft bodies, no internal skeleton, and, often, are able to make shells. Phylum Echinodermata all have shells with a bumpy surface, or “spiny skin” as their name implies.

Subsequent groupings are formed on the same basis: similarity of features, even when the features are minute or on a chemical level.

The classification divisions are as follows:

Getting back to fossil identification…fossils belong to the same groups as modern-day animals. A Trilobite had an exoskeleton, jointed appendages (legs primarily) and a body that had distinct sections. All these features make it a member of the Phylum Arthropoda. The crinoid looked like a delicate plant with a “flower” at the end of a long stalk. But the stalk and the flower, were actually an animal that had bumpy skin—so it fits into the Phylum Echinodermata.

Paleontologists look at minute details to determine further fossil identification and classification. With the trilobites, they consider the construction of their eyes, the variation in the segments of the body, the quality of the exoskeleton-whether it has a smooth surface or rough-the presence of antennae, and even the internal organs! Definitely a job for experts, but with a little practice, you will begin to call them by smaller group names such as Phacops or Agnosta!

Fossil Question?

Do you have a fossil that you want to know more about?

Submit a photo to our website. We will publish your photo and do our best to identify it for you.

[ ? ]

Upload 1-4 Pictures of your fossil.[ ? ]


Click here to upload more images (optional)

Author Information (optional)

To receive credit as the author, enter your information below.

(first or full name)

(e.g., City, State, Country)

Submit Your Contribution

 submission guidelines.

(You can preview and edit on the next page)

Here are some recent submissions we have identified.

Click below to see fossils from our visitors.

Whilst walking along the beach at South Beach, Studland, Dorset we found this odd shaped stone. My daughter thought it looked like a stone age spear head, …

An ancient gastropod? 
Hello! This is a coil-shaped fossil, about 3 - 4 cm in diameter; rock of unknown provenance (not found in situ), probably from a limestone quarry in …

not sure. i think its a gastropod 
I found this in a creek in ohio. Please contact me if u can..

Gigantus Carcharidus 
Possible Shark tooth found in recently exposed beach cliff.

T shaped bone 
I am digging out an unfinished portion of my basement in central Nebraska I found this bone about 4 feet down in a chalky layer. The bone is about …

Dino Vertebrea 
Found in Northern Arkansas near the Bull Shoals Lake are, private property. The picture sent before is showing the height this pic is of the length and …

fossil or a Turtle maybe embedded in lava rock? 
Found in Northern Arkansas near Bull Shoals Lake borders on a mountain top area. The area is private land and is not populated.

Coal Find 
Found in Qingdao, Shandong Province, China, in a coal heap. Only some fragments preserved of coal, and the fossil is a light yellow-green.

Found it with my granddaughter shell hunting in the sound of the gulf of mexico...perfectly round smooth top with design on other side.. I thought it was …

What it is? 
I found it on the hill close to my house in cardaklija macedonia I would love to know what it is ?

Crocodile Egg? 
Location: San Jose, CA Found solo, with no matrix in an area with almost no crocodile fossil sites so it's a long shot but it is what it looks like …

Robin Hood bay fossil  
Found in Robin Hoods Bay, Yorkshire. Wondering if they are parts of an ammolite maybe?

Silver Fossil? 
I found this on the shore of Lake Michigan. I'm wondering what it is and what the silver inside could be.

Maybe found at the beach...don't remember. Please help...thanks

"San" as i call her is 47" long. Weight is approximately 75-100 pounds. I have no idea where it came from or what it is.

Nice small fossil 
I found in my yard. Ammonite?

Strange rock 
I found a rock while digging. After cleaning with vinegar a small fossil appeared. Do you know what it is?

Looks like a Tuttle shell, But I do not no

Chris's finds 
Found these on a river bottom after major flooding eroded away the banks. Could use some help identifying. I have several ribs and what appear to be leg …

Patti's prize 
Playing in a creek in Northeast Missouri and found this

Hamada Fossil 
i found this fossil on Red Hamada ,actually many people asking me about it and the answer from my side was no idea. so i google some website to help me …

mammoth tooth? 
I found this in Lake Michigan. 2 other similar pieces have been found. any information would be appreciated thanks

mammoth tooth? 
I found this in Lake Michigan. 2 other similar pieces have been found. any information would be appreciated thanks

??? Delta, UT Fossil 
Hard as a rock found around delta ut.

Click here to write your own.

i do not know  
Broke open big peace of clay 200' down at the bottom of a cliff in the Utah.thin like paper it's not as leaf ??????

Beach find 
I found this fossil on the North Norfolk Coast(England) a few years ago. I've been using it as a paper weight and often wondered what it actually was? …

Cinci road cut 
I found a fossil in road cut inside the I-275 bypass in Cincinnati OH (Ordovician period). Looks like chili pepper. Any ideas? if so please email me …

dont know 
Found this in a 17ft. Hole i dug

Bone/claw piece 
Found this and looks like a bone, claw piece or from a tail. Likely from Jurassic age rocks. Found in littoral zone on urban beach in Scarborough UK

Beach bone 
Found in 1973 on Wrightsville Beach NC. More rock than bone. 14" long and at the widest part 2.5".

Unknown vertebrae from central Florida. 
Found by my father years ago in central Florida in a spring pool. Looks like the lasts vertebrae before the tail begins. 7"to 8" long.5" high and wide. …

Cool unknown  
Found in Lake Ozark missouri on a hill top with other large rock formations.

Fossil 1 - Myrick 
This was found in southeastern Georgia, USA. The striations are confusing on the exterior with bands of dark and light. We think it is a tooth. Small inset …

small fragment on a rock found on Saltdean beach, southeast England.

Found this specimen in Central Florida in a phosphate mine amongst many other fossils. By the color as seen in the picture, it is a mustard yellow/brown …

Sherry's fossil 
While building a home in Cheboygan, Michigan moving a lot of earth found this rock.

Sneaky snake 
While walking on a dirt path in Crowley's ridge, Arkansas. We could barely see the scales, the rest of the rock was under a root and mud. We believe this …

Apple of my Eye 
I found "Apple of my Eye" under and Apple tree near the Rims of Billings, MT and wish to identify the era. All I've heard is that Billings was a lake …

Tiny Eel-Like Fossil? 
Hi there, This summer I received a free bag of stones while attending an Oregon rock and gem show. I just got around to sorting them out and found this. …

Nut like? 
I found this in southeast Utah. It was in a late Cretaceous pebble conglomerate near Hovenweep National Monument. I found it securely attached to the conglomerate …

found in an area were a lower jaw and other various fossilized bones and coral were.there are actually three of these shapes side by side hard to see …

Animal Tooth 
This tooth was found about 25 years ago on a beach in New Jersey. Size is about an inch for both length & width. I believe it's an herbavoire tooth, but …

another find in the woods it resembles fossilized wood with the layers of growth showing on the edge similar to pine.

another fishing find on a hill side near a wash out or flood are.when i cleaned the caked on grit it revealed .what looks to be a single piece of coral …

strange formation  
another odd find unsure with this one .

was in a box of native american artifacts i was given years ago it looks to be some sort of brachiopod.

was in a box of native american artifacts i was given years ago it looks to be some sort of brachiopod.


Found in a washout in SW Indiana. Approximately 40 min. NE of Evansville.

Click here to write your own.

These were found in a creek in SW Indiana. It is located about 40 min. NE of Evansville.

unknown shell 
found this one quite a few years ago figured maybe a type of brachiopod?

little critter 
had this one since childhood never new what it was.

had this one for awhile figured it was some kind of sea creature.

from beneath 
another interesting find looked like a bowl filled with small honeycombed shapes.with a solid clump on the under side it was interesting looking.i believe …

Trace Fossil? 
I have a large collection of these and need help in identifying. They were found in south central pennsylvania. I at first thought possibly worm burrows? …

Cox bone find 
The pictures here show what appears to be a fossilized bone of some size. We have no way of knowing what it is or if it is in fact a fossil of some sort. …

found with various other small bone like fossils it resembles a small face of some creature with blueish and green colouration in it.

another odd find in the woods looks like coral in a way but almost has jointed looking sections.

another hill side find it resembles a reptilian like look with the leg and claw with scale texture.

heavy load 
found this one while looking for fossils in the woods.found it at the bottom of a wash out after heavy rain.i believe it to be more fossilized dino turd …

found while fishing with the kids we always look for unusual shapes in the shore lines.this one was alone no other types of bone like shapes around.

brain teaser 
found this fossil along with the last jaw pictures i sent resembles it quite well with texture and colour possibly somewhat a flattened skull piece.

old turd 
found while looking for fossils with the kids it had a poo like formation.apon closer inspection i noticed tiny bone pieces in it so i figured an old dino …

mystery finger 
found while exploring a hill top and looks like a finger with a bone showing at the end and what looks like a finger lifts out of the …

unknown jaw 
found while digging a fire pit with various other pieces.

found while digging test holes for soil samples about 6-8 feet down.

Found in my back yard at 10,000ft elv in the Spanish peaks of sothern Colorado its 15inches long and it still has skin in places i believe

re submitting  
Found out that we were swimming in lake Wilson, Wilson Kansas when this was found. sandstone.

Don't know? 
I was given this by a friend who got it from a friend. I really want to know what it is, can you help me please.

feathers or leafs?  
I Showed my friend the fossil I send y'all last night and she got this out of her sewing kit to share, she found it in the woods as a kid could not remember …

flower or bug 
found swimming in Kansas, Seems to be an imprint of a flower or smashed bug in sandstone,the stone its in is vary thin.

What is it 
Found at Lake Whitney, Texas

Shark teeth? 
Found it In the Lake Ontario regions. It have white stuff all over

I have four fossils. Any idea which plants they are?

Click here to write your own.

Came across this find and would like to know what it possibly could be

Saudi Arabian Desert Fossil 
Found this outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in the early 80's.

Need help to identification 
I found it on the mountein.

not sure what I found 
while looking for geodes I stumbled on this


Phylum Arthropoda? 
I don't really know what it is. I took Geology, but I got a really bad grade, ha ha! Just because I'm not good at geology,but I really am fascinated by …

I found it in the clackamas river in Oregon. That's all I know about it.

Got no idea. 
Bought a box of rocks and found it in box. It's about the size of the Palm of your hand. I would love to find out what kind of stone it is.

gem fossil 
found out of a iron sandstone concerstion out of colorado the soft bodie parts are replace by minaral i belive it pirite and siderite my studieds lead …

Fish ribcage 
My father found this in Warsaw Kentucky, we are struggling to identify this creature.

rock wall finds  
the small dark piece is smooth & has a define ridge on it, the longer piece is crumbly & fragile i thought maybe bark but it's probably something

Wellington unknown #1 
This fossil was found in northern Colorado, close to the foothills of the Rockies. It was found in a field that has been farmed for years, but has seen …

Hi I found this large rock in the 1950s as a child in Staten Island NY. It had a small imprint of a shell on the outside. I recognized it as a fossil …

not sure 
found it by a river near where i live

We are not sure. I think possibly an egg ? 
Michelle found this at a near by lake. It was imbedded in soft rock with other small fossiles

We think its a tooth from a fish 
We were walking on the shore of a lake, which was very low due to lack of rain, in the sand we found numerous teeth like this one and many sharp teeth …

I thought it might be teeth, but Michelle seems to think it is a tube of some type of squid 
Michelle and I were exploring an abandoned quarry and she found these. Michelle is the rock hound here. Her collection is amazing. I hope we can share …

i found it at a thrift store for fifty cents and i thought it was some kind of fossil material and was hoping someone could tell me what it is

Linda's bone 
I dug up someone's discarded rock collection in an empty field in Fresno, CA. 10 years ago. There were fossils, crystals and abalone shells. Had to dig …

This was located on a shingle beach at Seaford East Sussex today.

Spencer's Fossil 
I know nothing much about such things and seek an opinion of the item in hand. It was found in Missouri and know one so far has any real ideas. Please …

Egg Shape 
Found in a small creek in Caldwell County, Missouri. I haven't found anything similar in the creek.

Dads Rock 
Hi, My Dad found this rock/fossil in Arizona and gave it to me. I am so curious as to what it is. Your attempt to identify will be greatly appreciated. …

Not even sure it is a fossil 
Found in shale bank on the beach.

Gigantus Carcharidus 
Possible Shark tooth found in recently exposed beach cliff on top of a layer of Eocene Marine Invertebrates.The area has been recently exposed from rainfall …

Click here to write your own.

Spencer's Fossil 
Hello all! Here are a few more (better) pictures of Spencer's Fossil. If anyone has any information on this piece, please respond. Found in a river bank …

Vertebrae from central Florida pic 2  
Sorry needed to add another pic of my fossil

Vertebrae from central Florida pic 2  
Sorry needed to add another pic of my fossil

unknown jaw -re submit different view 
just resubmitting different view showing tooth socket

Click here to write your own.

There are some great website for viewing photos of the different species. Here are just a couple that show off many different types from the same order:Per Hansson has a fabulous collection of trilobite pictures and try Geoscience Enterprises for fossil identification of crinoids.

Of course, there are lots of books that will help you with fossil identification of your favorite fossil. These are some that we use. I recommend them because they are easy to read, inexpensive, and they are readily available.

1. Simon & Schuster's Guide to Fossils.
2. Field Guide to North American Fossils from the Audubon Society.
3. For children: An Usborne Guide Rocks & Fossils

Armed with some great resources and your growing interest, you’ll be impressing your friends as you introduce them to your collection’s specimens by name. Be careful, though, they just might think you need to find some modern animal friends to keep you company!

For help with fossil identification click this link

Do you have a fossil question? Send us a note. If we can help we will.

We wii never make your personal information available to anyone for any reason.

Please note that all fields followed by an asterisk must be filled in.

Please enter the word that you see below.


Geologic Time

Geologic Time Line

Geologic Time Periods

Clock of Eras

Cenozoic Era

Mesozoic Era

Paleozoic Era

Proterozoic Era

Archaean Time

Hadean Time

Teachers Resources
Activities for Education and Fun

Earth Science Lesson Plans

Activities For Kids

Fossil Lesson Plans

Fossil Activities

Education Articles

Coloring Pages

Montessori Materials

Geology Club

Fossil Hunting