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!

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