Volunteering in the Field

The Division of Vertebrate Paleontology has 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.


Spring 2015 Thomas Farm Fossil Dig

The Division of Vertebrate Paleontology is seeking volunteers to work with Florida museum staff and students at a fossil dig at the famous Thomas Farm site in Gilchrist County, Florida. This year we will have two sessions: the first from April 14 through 19; and the second from April 21 through 23. During both sessions we will work every day, weather permitting. Digging hours are from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon. Volunteers are expected to work a minimum of three hours per day and can sign up for multiple days. In addition to digging, volunteers are also expected to spend some time washing fossil-bearing sediment through a screen to recover the bones and teeth of small animals.

The Thomas Farm fossil site formed about 18 million years ago, during the early part of the Miocene Epoch. At that time it was a large, deep sinkhole which was connected to a series of caves. Bones of dead animals from the surrounding landscape washed into the sinkhole during storms and were buried in layers of clay and sand-size grains of limestone. The most common of the larger animals at Thomas Farm are two species of three-toed horses,Parahippus leonensis and Archaehippus blackbergi. Almost all volunteers who are persistent will find bones and teeth of these two species. Also common are fossils of small camels, a diminutive antlerless deer, two coyote-size members of the dog family, a small extinct species of alligator, and a small tortoise. Less common are the giant bear-dog, rhinos, peccaries, oreodonts, a larger browsing horse, boas, and many other species. Fossils of smaller animals, such as mice, squirrels, bats, frogs, salamanders, lizards, and small snakes and birds are also common, but are found by screening the sediment at the site. Although the site has been collected for many years, and the Florida Museum and other institutions have many specimens in their collections, new species are still being found, as are better specimens of rarer species. That is why we continue to work at this site. More information about Thomas Farm can be found here.


The Thomas Farm fossil site is located in a rural area in northern peninsular Florida, in Gilchrist County. The closest town is Bell, which is about 8 miles south of Thomas Farm. The site is about an hours drive from Gainesville, although exact time will depend on your starting point and traffic conditions. Precise driving directions will be provided to volunteers upon acceptance of their application. Volunteers are responsible for arranging their own transportation to and from the site.


fossil dig field volunteers

Our volunteers working at a fossil site in North Central Florida.

Volunteers will be digging along side Florida Museum of Natural History staff and UF graduate students. Normally small hand tools are used, such as screwdrivers and trowels, to carefully dig through the clay and to expose the fossil bones. If intact and sturdy, the bones will be removed and placed into plastic bags. If fragile, you will dig around the specimen and then make a plaster jacket around the specimen, which will hold it together as we transport it back to museum laboratory. Volunteers will also spend part of their shift washing the clay from the fossil site through a screen to recover the bones and teeth of small animals.

No previous experience is necessary; we will train you on your first day if you have not worked on one of our past fossil digs.

Who Can Apply

Volunteers must be at least 18 years old as of April 14, 2015 (sorry, we can not accept younger volunteers for insurance reasons). Volunteers must be in good enough physical condition to walk up and down stairs and work outdoors for a three hour interval. For insurance purposes, volunteers must sign a liability waiver and become official museum volunteers. All fossil specimens collected during the excavations become the property of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Application Dates & Forms

Those who are currently working in the museum as volunteers do not have to fill out a form, simply send an email to Richard Hulbert that includes your name, phone number, and the date(s) of the days you want to work at Thomas Farm.

Link to an application form for all other volunteers, including those who have participated in past fossil digs. We apologize for the legal fine print on the junior form, but the University's lawyers insist.

Filled out forms should be mailed or delivered as listed on the form. There are a limited number of places to dig each day, which are reserved in the order in which we receive the applications. The following days are now full--please do not apply for them: April 15, 21, and 22. There is just one available place left for April 23; all other dates have at least two vacancies.

Lodging Options

For those from outside the Gainesville-North Florida area. Camping is available at some local state parks, such as Fanning Springs or O'Leno State Park. Another option are private camp grounds in the general area, such as Ginnie SpringsOtter Springs, or on the Santa Fe River.

The nearest good motels are at the Gainesville/Newberry Road (SR 26) and Alachua (US 441) exits of I-75.


Other Digging Opportunities

Information on digs at Thomas Farm led by Dr. David Steadman