One of the basic requirements for studying fossils is to remove obscuring matrix. Various mechanical methods for surface cleaning include tools such as hammer and chisels, air-operated tools such as air scribes, rotary grinders, wire brushing, ultrasonic cleaning and sandblasting (air abrasive). The earliest record of sandblasting utilized in palaeontology dates back to the 1890s. At that time existing commercial sandblasting equipment was not designed for palaeontological work. In his study of Wenlockian trilobites, Bernard (1894) tried to remove the matrix of their underside in order to reveal hidden appendages. As the marly limestone was unfavourable for preservation, the attempt was unsuccessful. Together with W.I. Last (South Kensington Museum), however, Bernard (1894) succeeded in constructing a tool for future applications in palaeontology. Despite the usefulness of this cleaning equipment for fossils, the popularisation of the sandblasting technique first came with the development of the micro sandblaster for use in dentistry in the late 1940s (Osborn 1904). The micro sandblaster was marketed as Airdent by the firm S.S. White. However, it was not until the 1960s that the sandblasting technique was re-introduced in preparation laboratories and subsequently led to a wide range of applications in palaeontological research (e.g., Stucker 1961; Spreng 1962; Stucker et al. 1965; Aichinger 1969; Kuhn-Schnyder 1969; Lanooy 1970; Rensberger 1971; Gunther et al. 1979; Lörcher 1984; Hannibal et al. 1988; Hannibal 1989).
The use of high-pressurized water, known as waterblasting, is a common industrial procedure for removing stubborn deposits such as paint and rust, from various kinds of surface materials. The waterblasting technology has been known for about 30 years, but has so far only been used in palaeontology on a limited scale by Jakobsen (2003). By blasting, the water creates an abrasive spray that is as effective, but not as damaging, as sandblasting. The waterblasting technology offers a new option in mechanical treatment of fossils.