Wednesday, October 15, 2014

National Fossil Day 2014

Happy National Fossil Day!  This year I would like to share with you some videos Gary and I took this past summer, while doing fieldwork in New Mexico, that we feel give you a little taste of what it is like to prep fossils.  We have already shown you videos of excavating the amazing finds out in the field, but that's only half the battle.  (If you haven't seen those posts yet be sure to check out what we did back in 2013, this past summer in 2014, and definitely check out Gary's step-by-step story on excavating a Typothorax rib from the earth to the display case!)  A huge part of working in paleontology requires prepping fossils in a lab setting.  This work isn't so much strenuous, but it is tedious at times.  Ever wonder why new fossil species sometimes take years to be published after they are discovered?  It's because sometimes it takes that long for them to be prepped! 

We can use a variety of different tools to help us prep fossils.  One great piece of equipment we use to remove large amounts of rock from around the fossils is called an air scribe.  This device is essentially a pen-sized jackhammer.  Below is a video of Gary using one of these air scribes to get through a rather large rock for the sake of a rather small (but important) fossil. 

Using an air scribe takes some practice to get comfortable with.  Once mastered, however, it makes prepping fossils a lot easier!  It still can take many hours to get the prize out of the rock, however.  Imagine how long it must have taken paleontologists to prep fossils before they had air scribes!

Once out of the rock, the fossils still need some attention before they are museum/publication ready.  These tools are for more detailed work than an air scribe and take just as much patience to use properly.  In the lab, we use everything from dental tools, toothbrushes, paintbrushes, and of course, Q-tips.  Many times, unfortunately, the fossil will break while being cleaned.  This is pretty common and happens to the best of us.  Luckily we have plenty of adhesives in the lab to put them back together.  Sometimes, unfortunately, the particularly small fossils can splinter apart to the point of no repair.  The best one can do in this situation is just chalk it up to a learning experience and be even more careful on the next one!  Check out this video of me as I clean off some of these tiny, yet awesome, fossils from the Triassic! 

Hope you enjoyed a taste of fossil prepping!  On a slightly different note, I was given the opportunity to run the Bergen County Zoo's first annual fossil day!  It's no Smithsonian, but I did my best to make the education center as full of fossil education as possible.  This temporary exhibit featured real fossils, fossil replicas, a (small) portion of my dinosaur toy model collection, and plenty of my original artwork.  Some illustrations I created special for this event.  I even got to use the zoo's brand new touch board device!  Below are some photos I took of the room after the zoo closed and the masses had left.  Enjoy!

Some of those Redondasaurus teeth in the case were in the video you just watched.
Same goes for some of those Typothorax bits.

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