Fossil identification is a crucial part of our business. In the field, it is extremely important to be able to recognize what kind of dinosaur you have found. If it is a rare dinosaur, the area warrants further exploration. If it is a common dinosaur and the condition is poor, time to keep looking.
To learn how to identify fossils in the field is a long process. We usually only see fragments on the surface. This is where years of experience and research come into play. Preparation is one of the best ways to learn how to identify fossils. Handling a fossil and cleaning every part of it really trains a person to identify unique characteristics of that individual element.
Each dinosaur we know of today that is named, has been published on in scientific journals. This is the first step in knowing what we have found. We maintain a massive library of these publications and keep up-to-date on new dinosaurs being described from our formations. There are very few complete dinosaurs found, so there are gaps in these publications. Another resource we use is to ask for assistance in identifying a fossil. We maintain great communication with both the academic and commercial sector for assistance in those areas. Also, new specimens can be found. During our career, we have discovered and helped academic institutions around the world acquire those specimens to be able to name a new species.
Being able to positively identify a dinosaur species is both crucial in the field and when it comes to marketing that specimen. We strive to do our very best to accurately identify a specimen based on the scientific journals to ensure our clients are being given the most up-to-date identification of a specimen. Most of our museum clients are in search of a specific dinosaur species, so it is extremely important when we contact them that we know what we have and if it fits their needs.
Access to scientific publications can be difficult at times and expensive. Some are free while others either require a membership or a pay-by-article fee. We tend to only utilize peer-reviewed articles. For many of the fee based publications, we are only able to see the abstract and not the complete article. This is a bit frustrating at times because it is images of the specimen within a publication that we are most concerned with when it comes to helping us identify a specimen. During the late 1800's and early 1900's, many great books were written with beautiful monographs of fossils from the Hell Creek Formation. One of the main ones that we still use today is "The Ceratopsia". We also have several others in our library from that period.
One of the best resources for past articles is the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. Their articles and "Memoir Series" hold a vast amount of useful information. Unfortunately, because we are a commercial company, even though almost all of our scientifically significant specimens end up in public institutions, their "Code of Ethics - Section 6." excludes us from being a member. Fortunately, we have many friends within the academic community that are more than willing to share scientific information with our group, a big thank you to them for continuing to share scientific knowledge that is public and privately funded.