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Radical Re-Boxing!

August 10, 2017

Written by Chilea Dickson

This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to be an intern for the Paleontology Unit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, a program funded by an National Science Foundation: Collections in Support of Biological Research (NSF: CSBR) grant. Throughout this phenomenal period of time, we re-boxed plenty of fossils.

Photo of many fossil mollusks in non-archival boxes

Multiple fossil mollusks in their original non-archival boxes

Why do we re-box fossils?

Re-boxing is done to help better preserve fossils. It consists of a few steps. First, the fossil was carefully removed from the original box. Next, the box was checked with a pH marker; a small mark is made on the inside of the box. If the mark was purple then the box was archival, and the fossil could remain in the original box.

Photo of a mollusk fossil in a non-archival box with a pH testing pen beside it.

A small fossil in its original non-archival box with the pH testing pen beside it.

However, if the mark turned brown, then the box was not archival. In this case, the specimen needed to be re-housed into an archival box. Archival, meaning that the boxes are acid-free. It’s good to be in an acid-free box because otherwise acids from the box could react with the specimens causing them to deteriorate. Some fossils were boxed together with the same catalog number on one label. But, some fossils were housed together with many labels with many different numbers which were paper clipped together and put in the same box.

Photo of many mollusk fossils in a blue non-archival box with many labels paperclipped together.

This is a non-archival box which contained several fossils with several labels. These specimens needed to be separated and individually re-boxed.

These fossils needed to be separated into different archival boxes. One time I had to separate a box of many fossils into 83 different boxes! This task was tedious (to say the least) and took about two hours! But, it was very rewarding when I finished!

Photo of several small mollusks separated into individual box by catalog number and re-housed into archival boxes.

All of these specimens were originally in one box. Here they are individually separated by catalog number. Look at all the boxes! They fill almost an entire drawer!

The extremely interesting thing about this process was that I got to not only view, but also handle hundreds of fossils, which if it had not been for this unique experience I never would have seen! Actually being “behind the scenes” of the museum, how amazing is that!

Photo of a woman's hand, a label and a fossil mollusk.

This shows me matching up the catalog number with the label prior to putting the fossil into a new archival box.

It truly puts into perspective how extraordinary this world is and how there are so many amazing things out there already known and so many more waiting to be discovered! You never know what you may find or encounter!

Photo of several small mollusk specimens with individual labels in multiple archival boxes.

The result of separating several small mollusk specimens which were originally in one box with multiple labels!

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