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At the museum’s FossilWorks exhibit, the process of extracting vertebrate fossils from the rock matrix that has encased them for millions of years is on full display. 

Funded through an appropriation from the New Mexico State Legislature, Fossilworks was built as an exhibit in which trained museum volunteers demonstrate the painstaking process of paleontological preparation. All volunteer preparators must complete a special training course to work in FossilWorks. 

One of the important sites that Fossilworks has highlighted is the Peterson quarry, located on BLM land in central New Mexico. A father-son team, the Petersons first discovered the site in the 1960s. Since 1989, they have led dozens of excavations at the site, pouring in thousands of volunteer hours to excavate almost 70 jackets containing dinosaur bones and teeth. The most dramatic specimen from the Peterson quarry is a partial skeleton of the giant (40 ft/12 m long) theropod Saurophaganax. This partial skeleton was prepared in Fossilworks and is now on display in the museum's Age of Supergiants (Jurassic) exhibit.

These days, FossilWorks has been mostly focused on the preparation of late cenozoic mammals of New Mexico, but all kinds of fossils have made their way through this amazing space.

Besides the actual fossil preparation work being done, the exhibition features text and illustrations about the fossilization process and Jurassic Period dinosaurs.

For more information on volunteering at FossilWorks, please see our Volunteering Opportunities page. Anyone wishing to visit or inquire about the FossilWorks lab or fossil preparation should contact our Fossil Preparation Lab Manager, Justy Alicea.

Quick Facts

  • The brainchild of then Museum Director Adrian Hunt and then Deputy Director Louis French, who wanted a public facing fossil lab similar to the ones that were already open at other institutions like the Smithsonian, the FossilWorks exhibit opened in the early 2000’s
  • The first dinosaur fossil prepared in FossilWorks was Seismosaurus, a New Mexico native from the Jurassic Period (150 million years old). These bones are now on display in the Jurassic Hall.
  • There are actually two Fossil Prep labs in the museum: the public facing FossilWorks exhibit and the larger behind the scenes lab within the paleontology department in the museum’s Research and Education building.
  • Originally, the only prep lab in the museum was in another part of the museum’s main building. Before FossilWorks opened, there was no fossil prep work done at the museum that could be viewed by the public.
  • Since its opening, hundreds of fossils in the museum's collections have been prepared within the FossilWorks exhibit for all to see.


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