Fossils are any life forms or indications of life naturally preserved from previous geological ages. They may include plant or animal fossils. Animal fossils may be either invertebrate or vertebrate. Invertebrate are animals without skeletal structures, such as insects, crabs, clams, and snails. Vertebrates have a skeletal structure like dinosaurs, mammals, sharks, or fish. Collecting burrows, bones, teeth, tusks, footprints, and other traces of activity from vertebrates is illegal.
What are artifacts?
Artifacts are items left from human civilizations of the past. They include arrowheads, pottery, pot shards, old bottles, pieces of equipment, and buildings. These items are part of our national heritage and researchers are still learning much from them.
Three-toed dinosaur track found in Denali in 2005
Where can I collect fossils or artifacts in Alaska?
Bureau of Land Management lands - contact the site management for what is permitted
National Parks - it is illegal to collect artifacts or fossils without a permit
National Wildlife Refuges - it is illegal to collect artifacts or fossils without a permit
Private Property - if the property owner gives permission
State Parks - it is illegal to collect artifacts or fossils without a permit
How do I get a permit?
Permits are issued for scientific research. They are given to people with specific qualifications that include related college education and experience. Permit holders must also have a letter from a federal or state agency-approved facility accepting collected fossils or artifacts for scientific study and public display. All collected items must be placed in the facility and cannot be kept by the collector. Information on getting a permit for National Parks is found here.
For BLM or state lands, contact the site management for specific requirements.
What can I do to help?
Always leave vertebrate fossils and artifacts in place. If possible, get photographs and approximate GPS coordinates of the location. Then report your discoveries to the rangers or the federal or state agency that manages the area where you made your find.
A fossil’s location and position tell a scientist just as much about the past as the item itself. They can be extremely delicate and attempting to move them could destroy them. Remember, they have survived in place for dozens or even millions of years and a little more time won’t make much difference.
When hiking, stay on trails. Fossils are fragile and can break if stepped on. If you see someone removing artifacts, or know of removed artifacts or vertebrate fossils, tell the rangers or the Alaska State Troopers. You may also contact the following offices:
State of Alaska Office of History & Archaeology 3601 C St., Suite 1278
Anchorage, AK 99503-5921 (907) 269-8721
Bureau of Land Management Alaska State Office 222 West 7th Ave., #13
Anchorage, AK 99513-7599
Uncovering History: Archeology Field School in Talkeetna, Alaska
Note: This Embedded video resides on the official Denali National Park YouTube channel
Did You Know? The Chugach mountains, protected in the Chugach State Park and National Forest, are the northern most extension of the Pacific Coast Range and contain Alaska's most climbed peak, Flattop Mountain.