Paleo field workMontana State University-Bozeman
Paleontology Field Course
Summer 2024

GEO 419 – Field Paleontology (2 credits)
Dates : June 3rd - June 14th, 2024

GEO 419 provides students selecting the paleontology option in the Department of Earth Sciences at MSU, and upper-division geology majors from other institutions, training and experience in field techniques used in vertebrate paleontology. The course prerequisites include the following class in geology: GEO 208 - Earth Materials or consent of instructor.

The course covers a variety of topics including field mapping, facies analysis, invertebrate and vertebrate fossils identification, microsite screening, taphonomy, and excavation techniques. In past years, the course has been taught in the extensive outcrops of the Hell Creek Formation of eastern Montana and the Jurassic and Cretaceous formations of Utah and Nevada. Extensive hiking and outdoor physical challenges require that students be physically fit. A fee for transportation, camping fees, meals, and materials is required (see fees below).


NOTE :  You must show proof of health/medical insurance for the duration of this course in order to participate.  Optional health insurance available for summer.



Resident Tuition & Fees Out-of-state Tuition & Fees
Cost for 2 credits



Course fee*

$ 514.07

$ 514.07


$ 1087.97


*Covers food, transportation, field supplies and misc. expenses for the 12 day class. Medical insurance required
but not included. Other fees may apply.


Sprague Lake, Washington

Beatrice Taylor Field Station, Choteau, Montana


David Varricchio, 406-994-6907, [email protected]                                 


Tucker, M. E. 2011. Sedimentary Rocks in the Field, 4e.  Wiley, Hoboken, NJ.


Develop the necessary skills for conducting paleontology research in the field.  This includes the gathering of sedimentologic, taphonomic and paleontologic data.  The course stresses the ability to make and document detailed observations in the field.  Students are to gain an appreciation of understanding the geologic and biologic context of fossils in the field.


  1. Participation during fieldwork, camp work, and evening discussions.
  2. Field notebook and map.
  3. Taphonomy write-up of modern locality.
  4. Measured stratigraphic section and interpretation.
  5. Taphonomy write-up of fossil locality.
  6. Final Exam


  •  No unsupervised fossil collecting at any time.
  •  Trips to town in private vehicles will be limited to pre-arranged times due to liability issues and scheduled activities.
  •  Students are expected to assist in cooking and cleanup as assigned by instructors.
  •  Campsites must be cleaned thoroughly before leaving.
  •  Participants are responsible for bringing all personal gear.
  •  Report all illnesses, allergic reactions, or injury to instructors promptly.
  •  Stay together in the badlands; do not leave the group (or camp) without informing the instructors.
  •  Lookout for your classmates.
  •  It may be hot.  Expect temperatures to reach the mid to high 90's. You must carry water! 
  •  Dress appropriately.


Field  equipment (*denotes optional gear):

  • Daypack
  • Water containers (min. 2 qts)  - You'll go through a lot of water in the field.  It's hot and DRY.
  • Good field boots
  • Hat and sun-screen - You definitely need a hat, otherwise you may fry your brain.
  • Rock hammer
  • Hand lens  (10x)
  • Fieldbook  - This is an important part of your grade.  You can get them at the book store.
  • Pencil (0.5 mm)
  • Extra pencils &  0.5 lead; small pencil sharpener (for colored pencils)
  • Short metric ruler
  • Several colored pencils (erasable recommended)
  • *Geological compass (0-360°, not  quadrant) - These and the next two items are optional.  If you
  •  have them, great.  If not, you'll be o.k.
  • *Acid bottle with 10%  HCl
  • *GPS receiver

Camp equipment:

  • Tent - You can rent or possibly share a tent with someone if you don't have one.
  • Sleeping bag and pad
  • Towel
  • Cup, bowl, knife, spoon fork (We'll put out pans of water so you can wash your own.)

Personal  (and optional gear*):

  • *Chapstick
  • *Sunglasses
  • *Pocket knife (or  Leatherman/Gerber multi-tool)
  • *Sample bags (zip-lock  heavy-duty freezer bags work well and they are light and cheap)
  • *Camera (digital preferred)
  • *binoculars
  • *Insect repellant.
  • *Bear spray.
  • *Raingear  - maybe a light jacket.
  • *Gloves
  • *Flash light or headlamp
  • Sandals  , waterproof, tevas, old tennis shoes - We'll probably be  going  to the river to swim if
     it's 90 or 100+ degrees.
  • cut-offs or swim suit
  • Sun clothes - Light clothes, light in color that cover you up.

Logistics and housing

Transportation is provided from Bozeman to field localities. Students provide their own sleeping bag, tent, and personal necessities. Cooking equipment and meals are provided. Medical insurance is required. Be prepared for hot weather, cool nights, and a variety of topographically challenging hikes

General questions

Can be directed to:  
David Varricchio (406) 994-6907 email: [email protected]

Scholarship Information


Note: Schedule subject to change due to weather and the whims of your instructors. In addition, readings and other assignments have yet to be finalized.