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How to Identify Fossil (Petrified) Wood - Page 1 of 5
By Ed Strauss, Washington (photos and content)

Fossil wood identification is a difficult and time consuming process. It can also be very rewarding.


The first step is to select a specimen. I'll assume that you have already acquired some samples by collecting or shopping. The specimens that will be easiest to give a preliminary examination to are the ones that:

  1. are not completely black or completely white but show a range of shade or hue and appear to have parallel lines (annual growth rings).
  2. have a relatively flat surface that is the end grain (looking down on the stump).
  3. are specimens that are from a known and recorded location (hopefully one that has been dated by the geologists).

Preliminary identification

Preliminary examination can be done unaided, but a 10x hand lens or magnifying glass is ten times better. First get used to using your hand lens. Train yourself to look through one eye without straining to keep the other eye closed. Learn the best distance to hold the lens from the specimen and the optimum distance from your eye to the lens. Study the back of your hand or printed material to get used to the distances and the motion of bringing the view in focus. Select a desk lamp that is adjustable. A "students" desk lamp with moveable arm works well. Sit comfortably at a desk and position the light so that when you sit up straight and lean forward the light resembles a headlamp or miners lamp with the light shining down away from your forehead onto the desk where you will hold the specimen. Have a small source of water handy to wet the specimen. A saucer with 2 table spoons full will work. Now you are all set. Wet the flattest part of the end grain and examine it under the lens using the desk lamp.

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