Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Summer at the Museum

This was the final week of the post-season here in the Paleontology Department of the AMNH or, as one child called it in an interview with Time Out New York, the Dinosaur Museum of Magical History.

While we've been working to finish up all the projects we took on this summer, much of the Vertebrate Paleontology department is in Bristol, England at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual conference presenting projects they've been working on all year.

Georeferencing: Final Destination

Feeling like it's finals time in algebra class, we've combined notes and numbers from georeferencing and are proud of our progress. Just in the overtime, the small group of us left completed 26.9% of the lat/long searches out of the entire 1808 item list from the very beginning of the project. Unfortunately, about 6% of the remaining localities cannot really be elaborated further. This is out of our hands though, since the locality on the labels, and catalog cards are sometimes as vague as "Decatur County, Kansas" or "None Given."

Rehousing: Ethafoam Apocalypse

Over the course of this last week we've rehoused everything from rodents, cats, and dogs to bears, primates and other species from some of the rarer mammal families. One of the more interesting genera we came across this week was the Glyptodon - an armadillo relative that's roughly the size and shape of a Volkswagon Beatle!

We've seen quite a few interesting specimens as we've worked across the 5th floor and while we won't reach the lofty goal we set of finishing all the type specimens on the floor, we're leaving Alicea in a good position.

We're finishing out the week keeping in mind that others will continue where we left off. It's important to leave reports for future interns and volunteers to read, to store all our materials in a place that's easy to locate and access, and to break down our work stations and leave the collections tidy.

We wish Ruth, Carl, and Alicea the best of luck as they continue on these endeavors.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Post-Season Update

We're in the 4th week of the post season here at the American Museum of Natural History and with less than two week remaining we're looking at the 5th floor (the only floor with fossils still in need of rehousing) as a sort of bowl game - an extra chance at the end of a great season to take on one more challenger. Will the 2009 summer paleontology interns come out victorious or will entropy still lay claim to some of the types on the 5th floor?

While the floor has plenty of type specimens in need of rehousing, we've been making quick work of them due to their small size. Most of the fossils we've pulled so far have been rodents or small feline and canine relatives, but then came Eudinoceras - an Coryphydont from Mongolia, closely related to Uintatherium, pictured here. We welcomed the challenge and gave it a great new rehousing, but we are keeping our fingers crossed that we don't come across any of its relatives, as specimens that large (think 50+ pounds just for the skull) take about 5 times as a long as a small specimen.

We've also been working with volunteer Alyssia to train her into rehousing. She'll be at the museum once a week throughout the coming year and will be continuing the type rehousing project. Even if we interns reach our goal of finishing the 5th floor, other type specimens, either ones that are returned from a loan or found in future inventorying of the fossil mammal collections, will be in need of rehousing. She's already helped us with a challenging in-drawer rehousing, so more manageably sized fossils will seem like a piece of cake.


A few weeks ago we received a comment on the blog asking for more details about PaleoCat. As we mentioned before, PaleoCat was developed specifically for the needs of the Paleontology department of the AMNH and is a great tool for research and collections management alike. It can be used to locate a specimen in the collections, identify all the fossils from a given locality, or print specimen labels. While information is still being added to the database, when complete it will contain data ranging from a fossil's storage location to its taxonomic information to a list of publications on the specimen.

The georeferencing work that the interns have been doing all summer is part of this process to enhance PaleoCat. Once we upload our work, a researcher will be able to find the country, state, county, and even the exact coordinates where the fossil was excavated. It can't be underestimated how important it is that locality information be easy to access when studying a fossil - it puts the animal in context relative to the climate it lived in and the plants and animals it lived with.

Take, for example, fossils from the "Telegraph Line Camp" in China. If you haven't heard of it before, its not the sort of place you can look up in an atlas or type into Googlemaps. Since China is such a large country there are plenty of regions it could have come from - perhaps the coast, or the desert, or maybe the mountains. After our georeferencing is uploaded to PaleoCat, you'd be able to find out that the Telegraph Line Camp is in the Xilin Gol Province of Inner Mongolia, a place that isn't so hard to find on the map. Pictured here is a monument to fossils found in the region, located only a few miles from the Telegraph Line Site.

Thanks for the question and check back next week to hear how the post-season wraps up!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Another wave

After a sad goodbye to half of our comrades-in-arms on Friday, the next Monday began with much reorganization of materials and space. Our goal was to determine how much of the scrap material could be saved and reused over the coming weeks. With the reorganization we were able to spread our elbows a bit more, providing a more comfortable work zone.

We began working on specimens that have been hiding on the 7th floor. With non-type specimens hiding with the types, specimens "missing", and specimens that only needed their type labels, it was an interesting day. But after much back and forth between the collections and the database and the staff, we were able to finally finish those troublesome specimens and close that chapter in the project (for the most part). We are finally ready to begin the last floor in the collection: floor 5! Floor 5 is the last floor in the collections that need types rehoused.

We continued georeferencing on Tuesdays and Thursdays, like any other week. Those of us who were working on the 8th floor relocated up to the 10th floor, freeing up the 8th floor for the department volunteers. The work continues, with a couple interesting yet evasive localities providing a new look into the task. Locations like Edgbaw, Myanmar, a locality of Barnum Brown, has one of us emailing everyone under the sun to find more information. It has become the "Holy Grail" for her and she does not want to give up on it until the end.

We pooled all of the work finished by the interns over the past two months. We copied it all back into the master copy of the georeferencing file, then split it up again between the three of us who are left. With two of us focusing on localities within the USA, the third intern is working on localities outside of the country. The number of localities seems to have doubled since we first splite them up two months ago, so the task has become a little daunting. But we're up to the task! We're still searching the library and the archives, still finding ramdom sources online and still poking through those catalog cards for even the smallest bit of information that can help us in our search.