Saturday, August 29, 2015

Collections Room, Petrified Forest National Park

Painted Desert from Kachina Point, Petrified Forest National Park

Another post away from Washington, but some science and policy perspective from Petrified Forest National Park:

Ashley gave us a tour of the collections room and the paleontology lab. On a personal level I have always admired the work of paleontologists. Intense detailed work collecting and deciphering small details and labor intensive efforts to extract fossils from the ground and figuring out where they fit into our history of life on this planet. They tell us deep history, but it is a history that takes a great deal of work and study. Yes, it is cool to see petrified logs and fossils on the ground, but the story is hard to figure out. The history of life and certainly of the various reptiles is far from figured out with numerous changes and rethinking of things as new discoveries force reassessment.

Collection rooms are a critical part of how paleontology is done. Find a fossil, carefully remove it from the site, pick away all the rock and debris around it, figure out where all the parts go – hard work. But more hard work and lots of education is required for the next step. Compare that fossil with previous finds by going to collection rooms with old finds. I have read about discoveries and rethinking of fossils in collections, so for me it was a great pleasure to get a glimpse at the collection room.

Jacket of plaster used to remove fossils from field sites

Skull of a phytosaur

The phytosaur skull shown above may be misleading as to what is in the non processed jackets. Often the jackets encase a loose mess of small bones that is far from understood at the time of collection in the field. Some hint within the initial digging suggests that the effort of collection is worthwhile. And one does have to picture the moving of that block of plaster from the field to the lab. Yeah for interns and volunteers! These are group projects.

A couple of thrills in the collection.

Bits and pieces of Revuetosaurus callenderi

Revuetosaurus callenderi was originally thought to be a very early dinosaur; however, the finding of hip and femur of this animal demonstrated that it was not an early dinosaur. A big deal in dinosaur lineage that also called into question other fossils that were previously interpreted as early dinosaurs without complete skeletons (hips and ankles) - a demonstration that science is a work in progress.
Earliest crayfish (for now), Enoplchytia porteri
The finding of this crayfish was a fun story. An assistant helping Sid Ash had not done fossil collecting before. Dr. Ash noted that sandstone concretions often had small fossils as nucleation centers. The assistant broke open a concretion and noted indeed there was a fossil inside. Turned out to be a rather remarkable find.
Freshwater clams
There have been a lot of fresh water clams identified in the park. Ashley described how fresh water clams attach larvae to fish that then transport the clams to new locations.
Fossil plant material from the Jurassic
Of course this is a site of a petrified forest. Hence, lots of plant fossils including thin sections of petrified wood showing cellular structure. In addition to the fossils, the collection room houses non fossil collections including insects, plants, rodents, birds and archeological material.
Collection rooms and archiving of material is fundamental to science and to history. A worthwhile effort that requires ongoing funding and support. Could not help to think space is always an issue as well as the quality and security of the building.

No comments: