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Paleontology Collections Move: Invertebrates Part 2: Re-boxing

March 7, 2017

In between shipments of new cabinets, we finally have some time to start re-boxing, and relabeling our specimens. You might be thinking, why bother? Aren’t your new cabinets all archival? They are, but a lot of the boxes the specimens are in and some of the labels are not. In the Invertebrate Paleontology Collections this can lead to Bynesian decay or “Byne’s disease.” Byne’s disease occurs when acidic vapors react with calcium carbonate. As some, most or all of you know, a lot of invertebrate shells, tests, or other hard parts are composed of calcium carbonate. Over time, non-archival boxes or non-archival labels reacting with water vapor (we do open our cabinets and humidity is a problem in NC) can give off acidic vapors, which in turn can cause decay and deterioration of our invertebrate specimens. So we are re-boxing and relabeling with archival materials. But there is more to it than simply swapping boxes.

Photo of fossil crayfish in non-archival boxes sitting in their old wooden drawer. Labels all akimbo.

Crayfish fossils in their old cabinet and boxes. Note the labels are all akimbo.

Jacob and I have been using our fossil crayfish collection as a means to work out a re-housing protocol that we can then use for all the specimens in the Paleontology collections. Jacob will be presenting a poster on this in April at the Association for Material and Methods in Paleontology (AMMP) meeting.  As illustrated below, steps include checking to see if specimens need repair, treatment for Byne’s or pyrite disease, or additional preparation. Our crayfish specimens need preparation which one of our volunteers, John Adams, is doing a spectacular job of.

Photo of John's hands as he prepares a crayfish fossil using an airscribe.

John doing the delicate task of preparing one of our crayfish fossils.

Prep work takes time, so in the interim we’re checking to see if the current box and labels are archival. If not, then it’s time for re-boxing and relabeling.

Photo of a man sitting at a table full of fossil crayfish specimen and tubs of pre-cut foam.

Jacob starts the task of swapping non-archival boxes for archival boxes and adding foam to separate matrix vials from specimens.

We’re also adding archival foam to the box to either cushion the specimens or to separate them from matrix samples, or from other specimens in the same box. Because these crayfish fossils are being used as a part of a research project, we are making an effort to keep the matrix that comes off during preparation. But we don’t want the matrix vial rolling into, and potentially damaging, the crayfish.

Photo of three crayfish fossils in archival boxes with foam separating them from their matrix vials.

Crayfish fossils and matrix vials in archival boxes with archival labels and foam to prevent damage.

Frequently, we don’t write specimen numbers on specimens until after preparation. There are many reasons for this including, the likelihood that the number will be etched off. Mind you this can lead to chaos if the people preparing the specimens don’t keep labels with specimens. With the crayfish specimens we’re numbering the specimens after preparation and are trying not to write directly on the specimen. So we’re painting a small stripe on the surrounding matrix on which we can then write the specimen number.

Photo of a woman's hands painting small white stripes on the back of crayfish fossil. On the table are two specimens that have already been painted.

Trish paints small white stripes on the back of fossils specimens. Once the paint is dry, she’ll write the specimen number on the painted stripe.

As you might imagine, none of this is a particularly quick process, but I think you’ll agree the results are worth it.

Photo of several fossil crayfish in white archival boxes with foam separating them from their matrix vials.

Crayfish fossils all nicely re-housed in archival boxes in their new cabinet.

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Sam Schmidt permalink
    March 7, 2017 2:24 pm

    Looks like lots of work — but worth it. Good article.

    On Tue, Mar 7, 2017 at 2:12 PM, Research & Collections wrote:

    > Trish Weaver posted: “In between shipments of new cabinets, we finally > have some time to start re-boxing, and relabeling our specimens. You might > be thinking, why bother? Aren’t your new cabinets all archival? They are, > but a lot of the boxes the specimens are in and some of t” >

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