Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It Came From Marrrrrrssss


Overall, the most important aspect of this task is to figure out the country, state, and county location of each specimen on our list. If along the way we find the latitude and longitude within our research, whether it be noted on a catalog card, map, or publication, we add it to our spreadsheet.

One simple but helpful technique that has helped us find the specimen location when the card catalog, internet, and periodical research has failed has been going into the cabinets and looking at the actual specimen. In some cases, the locality, or at least more of a clue to the locality, has been found on the tags and random notes left with the fossil. In other rarer (albeit awesome) cases, the specimen has had the localities and stories (think paragraphs) written on them.

A more complex problem we have come across is locations that span 100 or more entries in our excel database that needs to be further broken down. For example, one list contains about 100 entries from San Jose. In order to pin point the county locations for these entries we had to find quadrangle maps in the archives that luckily had the specimen locations marked on them. Quadrangle maps are topographic maps of Quadra- squares broken into quarters, those quarters broken into quarters, and so on: a structured way of zooming in on paper. We are now in the process of finding the location of each specimen by using the longitude and latitude found on the maps and plugging it into Google Earth to find out what county it lies in. Sometimes the coordinates do not come up on Google Earth so we have some things to further explore.

Happily, as this week comes to a close, many have finished the country, state, and county location and have moved on to entering any latitude and longitude locations found. Chelsea, our georeferencing go-to girl, has asked for each intern to leave her a note on what is completely finished, what needs to be researched further, and what is going to be impossible to pinpoint. Next week we will have a meeting discussing what has been accomplished, what can be further explored, and how to find the longitude and latitude of locations that we did not find in passing research.

Element Descriptions:

By the end of next week, many will be done with their drawers for element descriptions! At that point, we will help each other finish up and perhaps gain more time for georeferencing and rehousing.


We have finished rehousing specimens on the lower level, the third floor (including extras that were later found for us), as well as the second floor. Next week we will begin to tackle the 4th, 6th, and 7th floors, and finally we will make our way to floor 5.

This week the bulk of our rehousing was on the second floor. What was different about this floor was that we had to build many of the specimens into the drawers due to their size and weight. Some of these specimens include mammoths, mastodons, gomphotheres and elephants. We also saw a smaller relation to elephants, the group hyracodontoidea- a modern example being the hyrax.


Earth and Planetary Sciences Tour:

Our first half of the tour this week was given by Petrologist Njoki Gitahi. Petrology is the study of the origin of rocks and we were shown rocks that had resurfaced from deep within the Earth. These rocks are very important because they are a great representation of our Earth’s mantle; what we can only otherwise imagine as we cannot go down to the mantle on our own. One such example was a Xenolith. A Xenolith (literally stranger-rock) is a rock fragment that becomes surrounded by a different type of rock during its formation.

We also got to see some different types of hardened lava from Hawaii, most notably, Pahoeoe (which has a ropey look to it) and Pele’s Hair, the goddess of fire. Another type of lava we did not see but can be used as a contrast to Pahoeoe is Aha, a sharp and brittle looking lava also from Hawaii. Last, we saw some remnants of the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. One example was a stack of glass drinking glasses melded together.

The second part of our tour was given by Joseph Boesenberg, a petrologist of meteorites. Meteorites can be likened to what we saw with Ms. Gitahi because they can be compared to rocks found within the Earth. Two types of meteorites we were able to see were iron, a meteorite made of metals, and stony, a meteorite made of rock.

Some of our favorite meteorites included: olivine, a magnesium iron silicate that is named after its color – when held up to the light is gives off a stained glass window effect, an impact crater sandstone, which has many pockets of air, resembles the aftermath of folding egg whites, and floats like pumice , and tektites. Tektites are rocks that are liquefied and ejected from the crater when a meteorite hits the ground. It was the general consensus that everyone’s favorite type was the button tektite. When the rock is ejected from the crater it flies forward, and its front area, in liquid state, comes around to the back giving off the button appearance.


After discussing various types of meteorites we were told not to stand on the next rock passed around. After some confused looks we *drum roll please* got to hold a piece of Mars!! And no, no one attempted to stand on it.

As our sixth week comes to an end, we are happy to know that many of our goals for the week have been reached in not only rehousing, but in georeferencing and element descriptions as well. We only have two weeks of the project left, but some of us will be staying on through September to carry on, and we are certain we will have more triumphs and stories to report back on!

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