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

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Scholarship Supporting Neoceratopsian Research

The Dinosaur Research Institute has several scolarships available (not sure if they are for Canadian students only or not). One that perked my interest is the "Scholarship Supporting Neoceratopsian Research" created by Darren Tanke - pretty cool! 

© ReBecca K. Hunt-Foster

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

...more fossils just waiting to be discovered

This is the fourth article in a monthly series featured in the Vernal Express celebrating 100 Years of Discovery at Dinosaur National Monument, written by Dinosaur National Monument Park Guide Matthew Greuel. You can read his other articles on the Vernal Express website [my previous blog link1, 23]. 

This is probably one of my favorite sections Matt has written thus far. It talks about the building of the Quarry Visitor Center, about the first park paleontologist (Dr. Theodore White) and about the numerous people who worked very hard in the beginning to expose the fossil you use to be able to see in the quarry wall.

There’s more, waiting to be discovered
by Matthew Greuel (March.09)

"Such was the view of some influential people toward the Carnegie Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument in 1925. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the University of Utah, and the United States National Museum had come and gone. Why should any further development occur?

Certain other people, however, felt differently.

Paleontologist Earl Douglass felt very strongly that there were more fossils just waiting to be discovered. University of Utah geology professor Dr. Frederick Pack agreed, to the point that he sent a letter to the National Park Service (NPS) requesting no further excavation permits be granted “…until a decision has been reached as to what can be done during the next two or three years in excising a dinosaur deposit in permanent relief under proper protection...” The movement to enclose the Carnegie Quarry fossil wall in a building for public benefit started some years earlier when the public and paleontologists alike began to understand the magnitude of the dinosaur graveyard at the quarry site. Douglass himself broached the idea with Carnegie Museum officials prior to the creation of Dinosaur National Monument. Civic organizations in Vernal, the Uintah Basin, and Salt Lake City kept pressure on elected officials, including Utah Congressman Don Colton. Congressman Colton introduced separate bills to build on the quarry, but they never left committee. Some museums, including the Smithsonian, inquired about building and operating a site at the quarry.

The refrain from all these groups, however, was the same: The desire and demand was there, but the financial and other resources were not.

A steady stream of tourists visited the monument through the 1930s, hosted by Acting Custodian Dr. A.C. Boyle and his various New Deal-era crews. The onset of World War II, however, pulled resources and attention away from the monument.

The post-WWII era saw most federal government budgets increased back to pre-WWII levels, or even higher…except the National Park Service. Americans, with newfound freedom, mobility, and a desire for The Wild West, sought out National Parks in record numbers. It quickly became apparent that the minimal services offered by most parks were woefully inadequate, and Dinosaur National Monument was no exception. National Park Service Director Conrad Wirth thus proposed Mission 66: an ambitious project to build and upgrade visitor centers, roads, employee housing, and other necessities by 1966, the 50th anniversary of the NPS. The time and energy already spent discussing and estimating the visitor center at the Carnegie Quarry meant that building would be one of the first, and one of the most prominent, Mission 66 projects...."

Keep reading the article here.

Original article © Vernal Express.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cryolophosaurus in Japan

Cryolophosaurus is now on exhibit at the Fukui Paleontological Museum in Japan for a Gondwana dinosaur exhibit. This is only the fourth full cast of Cryo in the world (and the most up to date), with the others found at Augustana College in Rock Island, IL (the first mounted skeleton), War Memorial Museum in Auckland, New Zealand, and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. These cast are made by Research Casting International. The Australian Museum in Sydney also has a cast, but I am not sure if it is just a skull or the full body.

Last spring before I moved to Colorado I was employed at Augustana College (the best job I have ever had btw - great boss and good working environment, I really miss it) and worked on Cryo on a daily basis. We packed up all of the new elements that had been prepared since it was originally cast nearly 10 years ago and sent them to RCI so a new, more accurate postcranial skeleton could be made for the Japanese exhibit. I am happy to see this picture of it now on exhibit! I really like the way they have it mounted. It is nice to not see a lot of heavy armature under the skeleton. I thought I would pass the picture on since not many of us will have a chance to see the exhibit. But if anyone does make it over there, I would love to see your pictures!

You can read the official monograph on Cryolophosaurus for free here (PDF).

© ReBecca K. Hunt-Foster, Picture © Chisako Sakata - used with permission

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fieldwork Friday #4

Sorry this is late - but it is still Friday (for  a few more seconds...)

What a week! We arrived home from our trip to the Marble Mountains Tuesday. I am home for a week and a half and then we are in and out of town until the second week of May! I should not complain - a little over a week of that is field work.

Our trip to the Mojave was wonderful! We could not have asked for better weather! A little background on the trip – we were in the Marble Mountains south of the Mojave National Preserve of California searching for trilobites in the late Cambrian Latham Shale. My husband has been working there since he was an undergraduate and is gathering data for a presentation he will be giving this fall at the International Conference on the Cambrian Explosion. Last year they collected 147 specimens. This year we collected close to 300 specimens. 

We met Dr. Andy Farke (curator of paleontology at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California) along the road on our way to the site. Andy worked out in the field with us the first day. I had a great time getting caught us with him. We realized it was out first time to do fieldwork together - and we were in the CAMBRIAN! What is the world coming to? We need to get out to the Cretaceous where we belong. ;)

We had great luck at our first site. The area was frequented by many hobby collectors while we were there and we had the pleasure to be seriated with gun fired from the camp below our pits (as their children ran loose on the mountain side trying to find trilobites). But everyone came away with a trilobite and no gun shot wounds, which always makes for a good day.

The second day we worked out first day’s area, and then moved to an area closer to camp. We had moderate success at this site. We worked pits that had been opened by others (minimizing any surface impact) and found an amazing amount of trilobite cephalons in the spoil piles. It appeared that many of the people who were working the area were looking for whole trilobites. I found 2 complete trilobites on this trip. The rest were cephalons (and some pretty nice ones!).

This area provided a nice view and we saw a nice variety of lizards (2 Chuckwalla’s!), a nice variety of spring flowers, some fun weird beetles, and 1 huge scorpion!! The weather was perfect with the exception of a strong wind we had our third night that threatened to take down our tents, and did take out our shade tarp. We all got a nice coating of dust and a free facial that day.

This trip was also our dog Tikka's first field excursion since we have had him. He is an Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix, and an older dog. He enjoyed going out with us and stayed very close, enjoying any shade he could find. He did not even chase any lizards or bugs, just chilled out and watched us work, snapping at the occasional fly that would bug him. He did really well until the last day. We were returning to a quarry that was up a long shale covered, rocky hill and as soon as he saw where I was headed he sat down on the trail and refused to go any further. We decided, since it was the last day and he was so insistent on NOT going up that trail, to just let him hold down the fort at camp that day. He seemed to be feeling much better, although still sore, that evening.

All in all it was a great trip! Feel free to take a look at my pictures from the trip. I hope to take some pictures soon to share of the curation process and research the trilobites we collected will now be going though.

Olenellus (nevadensis?)

Mesonacis fremonti

Mesonacis fremonti

The brachiopod Paternia pospectensis (below)

Mesonacis fremonti

Olenellus nevadensis

© ReBecca K. Hunt-Foster. Please see the "Fieldwork Friday Rules" about the work I do and collection practicies.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ann Elder

Ann Elder, paleontologist, geologist, and the Chief of Resource Management for Colorado National Monument, passed away suddely this week due to complications from surgey. 

Ann had long worked for the National Park Service and began her career at Fossil Butte National Monument and later moved to Dinosaur National Monument where she worked until this past year when the jobs there were slashed. We were very lucky to have her at Colorado National Monument, here in Grand Junction. John and I had just seen her last week and were planning a exhibit at the museum of fossils from the monument. This was my first chance to meet Ann in person, although I had long knew her name and wonderful reputation. She was nice enought to let me use her office when a call I was trying to place would not work. She took the time to show me the best place to use my cell phone so the call would go out and I could wrap my buissness up so we could discuss the fossils. It is hard to believe that someone I just saw last week has died. And so unexpectedly! Life can be shoreter than we expect and maybe we should all take this moment to appreciate those around us a bit more. You never know when they could leave you suddely. 

Paleontology truly lost one of its greats this week.

You can read more about Ann and her wonderful controbutions to paleontology here. If you knew her you may take a moment to leave your memories of her. If you did not know her I encourage you to read the stories left by others. 

Image borrowed from the Ann Elder Memorial

A few headlines

Paleontology making news this week:

Big Bone Scam at Newsweek

Uh-Oh: The Guy Who Found Houston's Most Famous Fossil Was A Con Man at the Houston Press

Dinosaur Wars at Smithsonian (check out the comments)

T. rex vs the feather duster at the Chicago Tribune

Thanks to Jim, Doug, Chris and Lee for the links. 
© ReBecca K. Hunt-Foster