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HomeArticlesSari on Science: Learn about paleontology via cookie “excavation”

Sari on Science: Learn about paleontology via cookie “excavation”

What’s your favorite dinosaur? Don’t worry, there’s no wrong answer — because, as my daughter would tell you, all dinosaurs are awesome! But if you said Tyrannosaurus rex, you would be among the majority of Americans.

Right now, at Arizona Science Center, you can still get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a real T. rex in person. Victoria the T. rex — one of the largest and most complete T. rex specimens ever found — is on display with all 199 of her real bones, along with a variety of interactive exhibits that help explore what she looked like, sounded like, how she hunted and more!

This holiday season, come visit Victoria, then practice your paleontology skills on all those sweets that seem to be constantly around with this fun, at-home chocolate chip cookie excavation activity. Can you excavate your “fossils” (chocolate chips) from their dig site (the cookie) without breaking them?

  • Chocolate chip cookie (or any cookie with “chunks”)
  • Toothpicks
  • Plate
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Other tools to test (craft sticks, mini-spoons, tweezers, dental picks, paint brushes, etc.)
  • Optional: Magnifying glass

Place your cookie on a plate and observe this cookie “site.” Look for any chocolate chip “fossils” you can see before excavating (i.e. digging).

Draw a picture of your cookie and note what you see.

Using a toothpick, attempt to remove each chocolate chip “fossil” without breaking it.

Try using other tools to see if they work any better or worse.

If you uncover more chocolate chip “fossils,” keep adding them onto your drawing. Mark on your drawing which “fossils” you were able to remove whole and which ones were damaged. Also write what tool you used to excavate each one.

What’s happening?

Paleontology is the study of ancient life on Earth from fossils — including dinosaurs, plants, mammals, fish, insects, fungi and even microbes. Fossils are the remains of organisms that have been replaced by rock material or impressions of organisms preserved in rock, and can help us understand how organisms changed over time and what our planet was like long ago. Fossils are usually very delicate and deeply buried in rocks. Removing them takes skill, patience and the right tools. This cookie excavation simulates the skills needed in an excavation, the challenges a paleontologist might face, and the importance of using the right tools for a specific job.

With your cookie excavation, which tool worked best? What was surprising about your excavation? What problems did you encounter? How do you think paleontologists know what’s underground? How would you have worked differently if you had no idea what was buried inside?

Did you know?

The name Tyrannosaurus rex means “tyrant lizard king,” but the T. rex is more closely related to modern chickens than to modern lizards. Find out more fun facts in Victoria the T. rex, now through Jan. 3 at Arizona Science Center! Visit for details.

RELATED: More “Sari on Science” projects

Read this month’s Raising Arizona Kids Magazine!

Sari Custer
Sari Custer
Sari Custer is a lifelong science junkie, Chief Science and Curiosity Officer at Arizona Science Center, and mom to daughter Carson (6). Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @SariOnScience and find Arizona Science Center at


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