Ask An Expert

Penn Dixie receives many requests for specimen identification. Since our mission is the hands-on study of natural sciences, we’re happy to examine your geological treasures. Our staff has expertise in geology, mineralogy, and paleontology. We’ve seen a lot of cool stuff, but we offer these disclaimers:

  • We may not be able to identify your specimen if it is incomplete or damaged.
  • We are not able to make value appraisals. We note that the vast majority of specimens sent to us for ID are not particularly valuable, other than for sentimental or educational purposes.
  • We offer identification on a completely voluntary basis and for non-commercial purposes only.

Please consider the following before you contact us:

Minerals are solid inorganic substances of natural occurrence. They are composed of molecules and elements, often assembled in a crystal lattice. The crystal lattice may be visible to the naked eye or with magnification. Some very common minerals include quartz, feldspar, mica, and calcite.

Rocks are composed of minerals. They can be formed through many processes in what is known as the rock cycle. Identifying rocks based on appearance alone can be challenging, and color is not a definitive diagnostic tool. Most of the rocks in Western New York are sedimentary in origin.

Fossils are the remains or impressions of a prehistoric organism preserved in a rock. Fossils are common in certain sedimentary rocks, if you know where to look. Our society is highly dependent on fuel sources derived from the decomposition of microscopic life such as tiny invertebrates and bacteria. Though small in size, these organisms represent the bulk of the Earth’s biomass, both in prehistory and today.

Dinosaurs, an extinct group of reptiles, lived globally during the Mesozoic Era — long after the rocks of Western New York were deposited. They may have lived here, but the rocks in which they would have been fossilized were either never deposited or were eroded long ago.

Concretions are hard, round masses of rocks and minerals formed during the burial of sedimentary rocks. Concretions are often mistaken for dinosaur eggs or turtles. Some concretions may contain fossils inside, but concretions themselves are not considered fossils. They are common in Western New York.

Meteorites are rocks that survived the journey through our atmosphere and crashed onto the Earth’s surface. They are leftover remnants from the formation of our solar system approximately 4.6 billion years ago. Earth is constantly bombarded with meteoric debris (e.g., shooting stars) but only a small percentage of these rocks reach the surface. Meteorites are very challenging to identify without scientific equipment and we refer you to Randy Korotev’s website for further reading.

Artifacts are comprised of stones, pottery, or other objects made by humans which possess historical or cultural significance. Collecting artifacts on public land is a federal and state crime and is also deeply upsetting to Native Americans as artifacts are considered sacred. Collecting artifacts on private land may also be a crime if a burial containing human remains is disturbed. We discourage this practice as artifacts are considered a nonrenewable resource. Once they are collected, their scientific value is lost. Further, we respect the wishes and beliefs of native peoples.Specimen id flow chartIf you have finished reading this information and would like us to identify your specimen, you may bring your specimen to Penn Dixie during normal business hours. There is no charge but donations are welcome. Alternatively, you may submit photos using the form below. Please include the following:

  • Your name & email
  • High-res photos of the specimen from different sides and angles. Include an object (e.g., a ruler) for scale.
  • Information on where and when the specimen was found.