Paleontology provides a critical insight into the understanding of Western Australian geology and is an important component of the Geological Survey of Western Australia’s (GSWA) geoscience programs.
Paleontology is the study of fossils, and examines not only the organism itself, but also the world it lived in. GSWA uses fossils to provide details on the age (biostratigraphy) and depositional environments (paleoenvironmental studies) of particular rock units in Western Australia.
GSWA paleontological data are available to researchers and the general public through two avenues — the GSWA paleontology collection, and the GSWA Paleontology Reports.
GSWA maintains an extensive fossil collection, including palynological and microfossil materials (slides and residues) and macrofossil samples. Samples are collected as part of GSWA field mapping projects and include material collected by the State’s earliest geologists and explorers, dating back to 1897. The collection is active today, and remains an important resource for mapping and other geoscience projects within GSWA.
The collection has a strong focus on fossils that are useful for geological interpretation, and has samples representing a wide range of ages, stratigraphic and tectonic units, and fossil groups.
Collection highlights include:
- an extensive type collection of Western Australian fossil material, relating to paleontological publications dating back to 1890
- stromatolite and other microbialite samples from across the State, representing a range of geological ages from the world’s oldest known stromatolites to recent examples
- macroinvertebrates and microfossils from the Devonian reef complex in the west Kimberley
- an extensive collection of palynology slides from water, coal, and mineral boreholes across the State (separate from materials maintained by GSWA as part of the Petroleum Relinquishment collection).
The collection is housed at the department's Carlisle site in Perth, and is accessible to researchers and other interested parties by appointment. On request, material from the collection can be loaned to researchers from recognized institutions under specific conditions; type material will not be loaned under any circumstances.
Enquiries and requests
The physical collections are supported by a broad range of data and documents relating to their location, collection, and identification of samples. Much of this information is available through GSWA’s various online systems, although some legacy data can only be accessed by request.
Collectors are encouraged to bring interesting fossils to either GSWA or the Western Australian Museum for identification. Understanding what fossils are found and where helps scientists better understand the geology of the State and helps government correctly identify and regulate important fossil sites for future generations. Donations of interesting or unusual fossils are gratefully received.
Advice can also be provided on geoheritage issues, such as the preservation, collection, and export of fossils within Western Australia.
The GSWA Paleontology Reports are short, generally descriptive, reports relating to Western Australian fossil localities or materials. They cover a range of topics, including basic descriptions, short biostratigraphic or paleoecological studies, and material listings. Reports describing stromatolites, palynomorphs, microfossils, and macroinvertebrates are most common in the collection.
The Reports are divided into two types — the Legacy series (1962–2015) and the Current series (2016–present).
Legacy series (1962–2015)
Prior to 2016, the Paleontology Reports were an informal, internal report series written by GSWA paleontologists for other GSWA staff on request. Of particular interest is a set of Reports summarizing all known fossils from the State from different geological eras, only one of which was officially published (Permian volume — GSWA Bulletin 136).
Legacy Paleontology Reports up to 1996 were released on a data CD (in 1999 and again in 2005), and were digitally rescanned in 2014 to improve text clarity, and to permit Optical Character Recognition (OCR). The recent rescanning program (undertaken in 2014–15) included all Legacy Reports from 1962 to 2014.
The Paleontology Reports from 2016 onwards are intended as a method of rapid communication, providing basic data or discussing one-off discoveries. These reports will be published on an ad hoc basis.
GSWA Paleontology Reports can be accessed through the following links:
- Compilation of Paleontology Reports — a compilation of all GSWA Paleontology Reports for each calendar year (Current series)
- Paleontology Reports — where you can search for and download individual Reports (Legacy and Current series)
Western Australian fossil law
In Western Australia, fossicking and fossil collecting is permitted under the following conditions:
- collectors first obtain a Miner’s Right from the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS)
- written permission has been granted when collecting on people’s property or pastoral leases
- no collecting is to be made on Crown Reserves (e.g. National Parks, State Forest areas, regulated Geoheritage Reserves) without prior written approval from the relevant State or Federal Government agencies. The only exceptions to this are those State Reserves listed as having a Common, Public Utility or Mining purpose.
All collectors are encouraged to bring interesting fossils to either GSWA or the Western Australian Museum for identification. Understanding what fossils are found and where helps scientists better understand the geology of the State and helps government correctly identify and regulate important fossil sites for future generations.
It should be remembered that any Australian fossils sent overseas (even for non-commercial purposes) are subject to Federal Heritage laws. See the Federal Moveable cultural heritage website for more information.
Many of the fossils discussed here, including the Trendall locality ‘egg carton’ stromatolites, can be seen in the Western Australian Museum’s Origins gallery.
More information on Western Australian fossils can be found on the Education pages
For more information contact: