Friday, July 18, 2008

Week Three

With the end of the third week, things have settled into a routine. On Thursday, we began the last of our varied tasks: inventory. Because the American Museum’s fossil collection nearly doubled when it obtained the enormous vertebrate fossil collection of Childs Frick in the late 60s, the AMNH’s paleo collections contain a large number of uncatalogued specimens unknown to the department’s electronic database. Add to this that the specimens are in the process of being moved up a floor and their cabinets rearranged, and the inventory can be trickier—or at least slower—than you’d expect. Even so the process is important. With a collection so large, a specimen misplaced even by a single drawer can effectively vanish forever.

The rest of our tasks for the week were not new to us and we are perfecting our techniques. Lindsay continues to be terrifyingly ahead of the rest of the game when it comes to entering specimen descriptions from the paper catalog cards into the computer. These element descriptions, when entered, will allow researchers to know which parts of the animal are available for study for each specimen number. We’re all getting better and faster at lining the collections drawers with protective foam, though Ruth has done her best to daunt us. By her calculations, she tells us, we’ll need to be lining 21 cabinets a day in order to finish the necessary 700 that will eventually take up floor 3. We’re somewhere in the 60s. That’s a long way to go. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it was Lindsay who replied immediately, “Mm, that’s doable.” We’ll see!

Georeferencing probably poses the most difficulty. Even those of us with the best kept notes to read from have to parse the different variations on a single locality name or the geographic markers—counties, streams, towns, schoolhouses—that may have shifted or disappeared. And then there’s Mongolia. Attemping to pin down GPS coordinates for a location that’s spelled three different ways in notes written by the same person and that’s located in Inner Mongolia these days can really take the shine off of Google Earth. Inconveniently, it seems Google doesn’t know everything.

In the most quotable moment of the week, we missed our mammalogy tour because I had the brilliant idea to cut my thumb with an Ethafoam knife, the first and probably only injury of our summer project. But Darrin, our would-be tour guide and taxidermist extraordinaire, was on the ball when Ruth called to postpone. Without missing a beat, he said, “No problem, bring her over and I’ll stitch her up.” Luckily, my thumb’s alright, and it all ends well if you get a story to tell out of it.

Next week… the half way point!

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