At this year’s Gala, the Collection Manager, Hilary Fleck, was asked to have objects or projects from the Collection that attendees could sponsor to help us further care for the artifacts in our collection. Dr. John Thiel answered this call and fully sponsored two graduate interns to identify, clean, and catalog the geological and fossil specimens in our collection. The following blog post was written by the interns, Kimberly Cook and Emily Thorpe, as a report about their project with our collection.
Who we are
Emily Thorpe and Kimberly Cook are graduate students at Indiana University. Emily studies paleontology and science education and outreach and Kimberly studies biodiversity science. Emily and Kimberly work in IU’s Paleontology Collections housed on campus in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. When the Monroe County History Center (MCHC) discovered a group of previously unknown geologic specimens within their collections, Emily and Kimberly were hired to sort, clean, identify, and catalog the specimens.
What we did
The process began with sorting to reduce redundancy and optimize storage space. Specimens that did not fall within the scope of the collections were set aside for secondary review. Specimens that were more valuable to the collections were retained for cleaning and accessioning. There was a wide selection of geodes, marine fossils, and even the tooth of an unidentified canine!
After the specimens were sorted, they needed to be prepared for accessioning and storage. First, dust, lint, and dirt were removed from the surfaces with brushes and pliers. Using toothbrushes, the specimens were gently cleaned to remove excess grime in nooks and crannies. This preparation ensures that the catalog numbers can be written cleanly on the specimens and that they are ready for exhibition or outreach events.
Assign catalog numbers
Each specimen received a unique numerical identifier. Specimens that were found in the collections together and were either parts of the same rock sample that had broken off, or multiple specimens collected from the same collecting event, received one single number. One record contained over 200 crinoid stem fragments! Using archival-quality paint and pens, each number was painstakingly written on its corresponding specimen so that it will always be linked to its metadata record, even if it were moved from its box, bag, or drawer.
Once catalog numbers were assigned each specimen was described using accurate geologic nomenclature. Fossils were identified down to the Linnaean taxonomic class level when possible (for example, some coral specimens could be identified as Kingdom Animalia, Phylum Cnidaria, and Class Anthozoa). Without more information about where the specimens were collected, often the age and time period the fossils were from was undeterminable. Many of the specimens are commonly found in Indiana and though collection location data was unavailable, these specimens are indicative of the Indiana region.
Add specimens to database
All of the inherent information that could be determined from the specimens was added to the MCHC’s collections database with their associated catalog numbers. This geologic collection is now organized and primed for the museum’s future use.
How it benefits the History Center and visitors/students
This project has diversified the scope of the MCHC’s collections and created a unique opportunity to educate visitors about Indiana’s geologic history. Even without knowing where these specimens were collected, conversations with visitors about our state’s geological heritage are still possible through comparisons with similar fossils they might find in their backyards. These conversations can address a variety of topics, from plate tectonics to climate change, and expand the visitor’s imagination even further into the past. MCHC’s collections scope has expanded from hundreds to millions of years, which will allow the Center to tell parts of Indiana’s geologic history that were previously underrepresented within the collections.
The History Center would like to thank Dr. Thiel again for his generous donation. We hope this is the first of many similar projects the History Center can provide in the years to come.