Shipping Large Fossils

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Statement of Purpose

This page presents recommendations on how to pack and ship large fossils to prevent damage during shipment.


Carrie Eaton and Jessica Cundiff


Packing large fossils properly is important to prevent damage in transit when shipping these objects for loans and research. It is important to consider the large size and weight of these specimens when determining the best materials and methods for their packing and transport.

Shipping Large Fossils

Important things to remember when packing fossils:

  1. Try to pack so as to minimize how much of the object needs to be handled
  2. Package materials in such a way to limit how much an object needs to be handled in order to be unpacked or unwrapped
  3. Utilize the "box-within-a-box" method to create a "floating" package surrounded by shock absorbing material to limit potential damage from impact or handling

Key points:

  • Objects exist in three dimensions and some parts of them stick out further out than others. Consider how any fragile protrusions need to be protected with padding and how to support the weakest parts of the objects using Ethafoam or other packing material. For example, a long bone in a crate needs to be well supported at its mid-shaft to prevent cracking along areas of weakness, but any processes that jut outward also need to be padded to prevent breaking. Use caution and do not over-pack, as this can create too much pressure on the object and cause breakage as well.
  • Your box could travel across different climates and will experience changes in environment as it travels through the night. You may need to include environment buffering material (pH buffer, silica to combat changes in humidity, etc.) to protect the object from any environmental changes during shipping and transport.
  • Be sure to document the condition of the object before it is shipped. A full condition report is nice, but not always necessary. Photograph the object on the day you remove it from storage and consider a photograph of the crate or box as it is being packed. Make note of any significant cracks, breaks, or areas of weakness so that these can be checked when the object is unpacked at the other end.
  • If you are making a custom box, plan to include extra space around the object for packing material. Boxes can be constructed using the methods in NPS Conserve O Gram 17/2 (1993) “Packing Museum Objects for Shipment” or the “Cheat Sheet for Making Museum Storage Boxes” by Rebecca Elder courtesy of the Sustainable Heritage Network.

Custom Packing Options

Specimens nested in a carved ethafoam block/plank.
  • Use a cavity mount for particularly fragile or significant objects. Cavity mounts can be constructed using Amy Davidson's method. You can use a second plank of ethafoam to create a “clamshell” effect and craft a top, or lid, for the object. When done well, multiple cavity mounts (with tops) can be packed into a single box.
  • Nest specimens in carved ethafoam block/plank to protect. Blocks/planks can then be stacked on top of each other with an ethafoam block/plank in between and placed inside a heavy-duty box or crate.
  • Tyvek “donuts”. Use a length of soft-structure Tyvek, placing a small amount of poly batting inside lengthwise. Roll the Tyvek up around the polyester batting so that it’s shaped like a long tube. Then take the two ends of your Tyvek-baguette and bring them together so that it’s shaped like a ring. You now have a padded circle that you can place around protrusions or fragile objects that need more support.
  • Fiberglass/plaster support jacket. For large bones that need robust support in transit, you may choose to create a support jacket out of either (1) plaster bandages or (2) a custom fiberglass jacket. With either of these materials, you can use methodology similar to Jabo et al. 2006 (“A technique to create form-fitted, padded plaster jackets for conserving vertebrate fossil specimens”). A storage jacket can then be placed inside a larger heavy-duty box or crate.


Custom Packing Crate.
Heat Treated Packing Crates.

Your packing job is only as good as the box or container you pack it in, so make sure you select a good one. For making custom crates, see NPS Conserve O Gram 17/3 (1993) “Crating Museum Objects for Shipment”. This method uses the “box-within-a-box” methodology to float the object inside the outer container or crate. You need to make sure you are using waterproof or water-resistant materials. Plywood is sufficient for a hand-crafted shipping crate since it acts only as a temporary housing for the object.

Here’s another great example of the internal configuration for a shipping crate. Note the use of directional arrows: Hunt, 2008. Packing and Transporting Vertebrate Fossils Overseas, presented at the Fossil Preparation and Collections Symposium.

If the shipment is sent internationally, heat treated crates or wood will need to be used to ensure there is no pest infestation. Use of wooden materials requires that the wood either be heat-treated or made of treated wood (plywood, chipboard and similar) or be fumigated before shipment. Another consideration with using crates, is how the crates will be shipped and picked up from your museum. If your museum does not have a loading dock the crates will need to be picked up by a truck with a tailgate-lift. It is recommended that the weight of each crate not exceed 1,500 lbs (max tailgate-lift capacity) and the size of each crate not exceed 47” L x 47” W X 60” H.