Friday, April 10, 2009

Fieldwork Friday: After the field

*I am going on vacation for a little over a week. See you when I get back! Thanks for reading*

A while back Tony Edger (of the blog Fossils and Other Living Things) asked me to "...consider at some point tracking something you find in the field through the collecting and curation steps." I thought this was a great idea and would be a great continuation to show what happens when many of the fossils I have shown in the Fieldwork Friday come back to the museum.

The museum has a great group of volunteers, who do many various task (picking micro verts under a microscope, screen washing, talking to museum patrons, working in the lab, preparing fossil, assisting with field work, making cast...). Our museum runs very smoothly thanks to the thousands of hours these individuals work every year. We had a "cataloging party" this week at work where the volunteers helped us catalog a backlog of fossils we have, so several of the pictures are of these great volunteers helping us out.
Some of the hundreds of fossils we cataloged this week during our party.

Thus far we have not collected anything large that requires preparation (or removing the fossil from its surrounding rock and stabilizing the remains). Most of the remains we have collected have been relatively small (that will change this summer), consisting of small isolated bone pieces and a few hundred trilobites. I though I would show a few of the trilobite specimens we collected in California and track their progress from the field to collections and study. Upon returning from the field, the trilobites are taken into our cataloging room where they are identified by our museum curator (to the species level if possible). During this process he will also take any measurements he may need from the specimen and make notes of these for his research.

Our museum curator identifying trilobites from the Marble Mountains (above) and measuring specimens for his research (below).

After the specimen has been identified it is given to me to enter into our museum database (we use the program Past Perfect).
In this database I enter as much information as I can, including:
  • land collected from (BLM, Forest Service, Park Service, private...)
  • catalog number
  • object identification
  • date and who entered the information
  • the collector and date
  • the identifier and date
  • preparator and date (when it applies)
  • any preservation methods (tools used; conservation materials, such as glues, used)
  • Site name and locality number (we have a separate database for this information)
  • description of the specimen
  • taxonomic classification
  • geological formation and age
  • condition
  • a photo
  • any notes (as needed)

I then write out a specimen label for each item cataloged. These labels include the specimen number, identification, element, formation, age, locality and locality number. These labels are printed on acid free paper and are included with the specimen in the collections room.
Specimens are places in the appropriate size box (or glass vial), with a layer of ethafoam cut to the correct box size and placed under the specimen.

Tom placing cut foam in boxes

When follow the methods of Davidson et al. 2006 (see the paper here) to label the actual specimens. The first step included putting down a small "stripe" on the specimen as a basecoat before writing, using Paraloid B-72 (a general-purpose thermoplastic acrylic resin), which is allowed to dry fully. If the specimen is light enough we write directly on this surface. If the specimen is darker, as many of our specimens are, we put a similar small "stripe" of w
hite acrylic paint on top of the B-72 basecoat.

Darrell painting labels on the Marble Mountain trilobites

When this is dry we write the specimen number onto the item. Davidson et al. suggest using a carbon based ink (reasons for avoiding dye based inks and other commercial pens/sharpies are discussed in further detail in the paper). An overcoat of B-72 is then placed over the specimen
number, to help with durability.

Kay writing a specimen number on a small trilobite (above) and a labeled specimen, below.

Photographs of the specimens are taken to enter into the database. Specimens are then moved from the cataloging room to our collections room where they are stored in steel Lane Cabinets and cabinets made by Steel Fixture (specialty built cases for geology and paleontology specimens). These specimens are now ready for anyone who would like to visit the collections to study the items. Superb items are put on display in the museum.

Example of a picture for the collections database. This specimen (a piece of turtle shell) was collected during Fieldwork Friday #1. 6043 is the specimen number.

© ReBecca K. Hunt-Foster

1 comment:

Tony Edger said...

Thank you. A wonderful glimpse behind the scenes where some of the most important action takes place.