This YouTube Fossil Hunter Has Dug up Thousands of Ancient Animals

A YouTuber with a passion for paleontology says he has dug up thousands of fossils over the years, including hundreds of tiny shark teeth and several whale skulls.

The YouTuber began posting videos to the site on his channel Mamlambo Fossils two years ago, most of which show him carefully excavating and preparing fossils that he has found.

The channel currently has nearly 38,000 subscribers, with videos regularly garnering tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of views.

The fossil hunter who goes by the name of Morne—he did not want to reveal his surname—told Newsweek that he grew up in South Africa and moved to New Zealand seven years ago.

Mamlambo said he was not a professional paleontologist, but has nevertheless dedicated his life to uncovering fossils.

"I have always been interested in fossils and dinosaurs but in South Africa it was very tightly controlled so I didn't spend a huge amount of time doing it," Mamlambo told Newsweek.

"I used to scuba dive for fossil shark teeth on the Aliwal Shoal near Durban and loved the sense of adventure and rush of finding something rare like a big great white tooth. I haven't studied paleontology, yet! I would say it's more than a hobby, but it's not my main job. It's definitely my passion."

Mamlambo said he had uncovered thousands of fossils in his lifetime, all of which he has catalogued with the GPS coordinates of where they were found, photos and description.

"In one location I found hundreds of micro shark teeth, between 1 millimeter and 5 millimeters [around 0.1 inch] that I still have to investigate fully. My fossils vary in age from around 85 million years to 100,000 years."

Mamlambo said one of the most interesting finds he had ever made was a fossil marlin skull, estimated to be 48 million years old, which represents an unknown species.

Among his other favorite finds are multiple whale skulls, including a 300-pound one he "dragged up a huge hill," a new species of bird that he was able to name—the subject of an upcoming scientific paper that is currently being written—and a previously unknown megashark tooth from New Zealand.

Mamlambo advises anyone who wants to go out and look for fossils themselves that they should act in an ethical manner.

"Never go onto private land without permission or areas where fossil hunting is prohibited. Never break a fossil apart or chip pieces off as it destroys quite a bit of the scientific value," he said. "Every fossil tells a story about the life of an animal from millions of years ago and we lose that story if it gets removed without proper documentation."

"I also always get in touch with a local museum when I find something, they love seeing what is being found and will usually name the new species after you, if it turns out to be one. Definitely, working closely with professional paleontologists [as well as] museum and university staff makes it much, much more rewarding."

As for tips in finding the fossils themselves, Mamlambo said they are usually found in sedimentary, not volcanic, rocks.

"I focus on cliffs (stable ones!) and rivers as the water often cuts through the sedimentary layers and exposes evidence of fossils. I look for fossil shells as they are a common fossil and act as a clue that there are fossils in the area," he said.

"Limestone is also a very good indicator that there are fossils around as limestone will contain billions of microfossils in most cases with the odd shark tooth and other bits of bone in it."

Once a fossil is found, he takes video footage and photographs at the location where it was uncovered to ensure that there is a good record of it.

"I will also GPS tag it and then give it a unique catalog number. If it is a rare or suspected rare fossil, I notify the museum and will donate it to them for professional prep work to be done and it will then be added to their collection," he said.

Sometimes the fossils won't need any preparation, as is the case with ancient shark teeth, for example. But if the fossil is fragile, he will put some consolidant—a substance applied to a material to strengthen and solidify it—while still in the field to ensure that he can bring it back to his preparation lab in one piece.

"If I decide to prepare it, I look at the method. Do I use an air scribe, acid or air abrasion? An air scribe works very well for crabs and bone where there is good separation. Acid is good for bone that is sticky i.e. the rock doesn't want to flake away from the fossil. It is very slow though and can take months where the air scribe can take days or weeks," he said.

"Air abrasion is a micro sandblaster and works well if the rock is softer than the rock. It's not as fast as an air scribe. Usually, I use a combination of air scribes and acid for fossil bones."

The creator of Mamlambo Fossils YouTube channel
The creator of the Mamlambo Fossils YouTube channel holding an ancient marlin skull. Mamlambo Fossils

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