Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Skills of Fossil Preparation

Have you ever wondered how fossil bones are recovered from a rock?

TW:eed Team volunteer Maggie Wood from the National Museums ofScotland has been learning all about just that.

Maggie recently spent a fortnight with Sarah Finney (Geological Conservator) at the University of Cambridge, Sedgwick Museum of EarthSciences. Maggie was on a training placement alongside Vicen CarriĆ³, geological conservator and preparator at the NMS and Anna Jerve from Imperial College London. The aim of the placement was to learn the different types of mechanical fossil preparation techniques and get training from the experts.

Maggie describes the experience:

'The workshop took place at the Brighton Building which is the laboratory and storage facility for the Sedgwick Museum. Sarah started by giving a tour of the collections and showed us the material we would be working on which included specimens from the TW:eed Project.

Tim Smithson demonstrated the preparation of a fossil-bearing mudstone from the main TW:eed Project field site. It crumbled very easily and was a challenge to prepare, but we found a number of fossils including the pectoral girdle of a rhizodont, a large carboniferous fish. Other specimens posed completely different problems being very hard and requiring mechanical preparation. Using these techniques I exposed part of a tetrapod tibia from a harder sandstone rock from the Early Carboniferous.

Vicen CarriĆ³ and Maggie Wood preparing a fossil specimen
We visited the Department of Zoology to see how useful the micro-CT scanner could be prior to the preparation of the material for the TW:eed Project. The scan shows the differences in density inside the object chosen and produces a series of images that represent slices through the object. These slices can be put together digitally to produce a 3D image of the whole object. Colours can be added to highlight the individual bones in a specimen.

It was very stimulating to meet colleagues from another institution working in the same field. As a complete beginner I enjoyed the fortnight enormously and learned a great deal. I will now be able to do more detailed work with Vicen in fossil preparation at NMS.

We were made very welcome by all members of staff including the lovely volunteers. Sarah Finney is a great team leader, an inspiration for everyone and makes the Sedgwick a very happy place to work. I would like to thank everyone who helped make the experience so productive and enjoyable.’

That sounds like a wonderful placement and a great opportunity to work on such fascinating ancient fossils.

Until next time

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