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Last Updated: Monday, January 22, 2018 12:00 PM

Paleontological Resources Program

photo-whale vertebrae

DEA's Paleontological Resources Program develops policy and provides technical and statutory information, guidance documents, and specifications to assist the Districts/Regions with the identification, evaluation, and mitigation of paleontological resources.

Paleontology is the study of life (exclusive of hominids) in past geologic time. It is a natural science closely associated with geology and biology. Scientifically significant paleontological resources are identified sites or geologic deposits containing individual fossils or assemblages of fossils that are unique or unusual, diagnostically or stratigraphically important, and add to the existing body of knowledge in specific areas, stratigraphically, taxonomically, or regionally (based on a definition by Robert Reynolds). In geologically diverse California, vertebrate, invertebrate, and plant fossils are usually found in sedimentary and metasedimentary deposits.

Caltrans and local project sponsors, as part of the project development and delivery process, are obligated to conduct paleontological studies and mitigation when necessary in response to federal and state laws and regulations. Local project sponsors also need to comply with their local laws and ordinances. Caltrans makes the effort to comply with local laws and ordinances when feasible, but is not obligated to do so. When addressed proactively, paleontological resources are not likely to restrict project options or slow project delivery, but they will add to the body of scientific knowledge.

Policy & Procedures


  • Section 14-7 "Paleontological Resources" of the Standard Specifications
    instructs Caltrans construction contractors regarding actions to take when unanticipated paleontological resources are encountered during construction of a transportation project. Section 14-7 applies to all projects conducted on the state highway system. The 2006 version can be accessed through the 2006 Standards "Amendments to the Standard Specs (S1-020)" link on the Office Engineer's Specification page. The 2010 version of Section 14-7 is found on this same page within the 2010 Standard Specifications.

  • Non Standard Special Provisions
    When the potential to disturb paleontological resources during excavation associated with a transportation project is identified through environmental review, non standard special provisions (NSSPs) must be developed, approved, and incorporated into the construction contract. For assistance with paleontological NSSPs, contact the applicable district Environmental Branch.

External Resources

For more information please e-mail