Picks, Pencils, and Plaster

In addition to the physical removal and transport of fossil finds, palaeontological "collection" also involves the on-site gathering and recording of data. First, the excavated bones and any associated fossil material are systematically recorded, mapped, and sketched in situ (as found in its orginal fossilized context). Observations in the field are recorded with attention to both accuracy and precision so that the observations made and conclusions drawn from the orginial investigation can be reproduced by subsequent researchers. Therefore, careful attention is given to a variety of geological and environmental variables such as the nature of the sediments bounding and containing the fossil bones, the association fossils to one another, and the taxonomic composition of the fossil horizon. Field documentation is vital in reconstructing both the fossils taphonomic history, and the palaeoenvironment in which the animal lived.

Once the process of documentation is complete the task of collecting and transporting the fossil begins. To minimize the risk of damaging fragile fossil material, a rigorous systematic approach is applied to the collection of dinosaur bones. However, just as each web user has a favourite method of doing web research, so too does each excavation team have a preferred set of collection techniques. Ultimately, the choice of collection procedures reflects a combination of factors including: the amount and character of the fossil material, the physical terrain and accessiblity of the site and the budget, time, and staff constraints of the excavation.

The following is a list of collection procedures as provided by Geologist, Roger Vaughan (Bristol City Museum):

  1. Remove the majority of the sediment matrix from the fossil - leaving enough so that the fossil remains intact. (In the case of soft matrix encased fossils removal can be accomplished manually. However, fossils encased in hard rock matrix may require mechanized means of removal.)
  2. Dig down to a level below the fossil horizon. (When digging it is important to continually provide support (e.g. stacked bricks) for the fossils being undercut).
  3. Protect the exposed bone by covering it with wet strips of paper and then "plaster jacketing" it with layers of pieces of sack cloth dipped in plaster.
  4. Lower a wooden crate (with an open bottom) over the fossils and then slide the crate bottom under the fossil (detached from the underlying sediments). For addtional strength spray insulation foam can be used to fill in the gaps between crate and plastered specimen.
  5. Transfer the packed fossil (either by hand, simple machine, or small crane) to its designated vehicle of transport.


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