2003, Oxford:



Long term preventative conservation of the Shropshire County Museum Service geological collections- the geological elements of the Ludlow Museum Resource Centre.

Kate Andrew, Hereford Museum & Art Gallery, Hereford

The geological collections of Shropshire County Museum Service held in Ludlow comprise some 35,000 specimens - the bulk of the collection are Silurian and early Devonian in age, and represent a valuable resource of well documented invertebrate and early vertebrate specimens collected mainly in the last forty years from Shropshire localities and bordering counties. The collection also contains around 300 specimens from the megafauna of the Siwalik Hills in India, donated in the mid nineteenth century by Colonel John Colvin and Major William Baker. A recent return to the county are the Condover Mammoth remains and associated fauna. The National Museum of Wales had kindly stored this collection for a number of years in their climate controlled store, serious damage would have occurred otherwise to this friable material. Until 2003, the collection was stored in overcrowded and very cramped conditions at a former school, climate control was limited to a hot water heating system. Recently the collection has been re-located to the purpose built Ludlow Museum Resource Centre. Over eight years of planning and preparation led up to this move, culminating in an official opening by HRH the Queen in July 2003. Central to the preparation to move was the decision to continue to use a standard series of sizes of specimen card trays but to upgrade the depth, quality, dust resistance and internal cushioning and to use a standard box size in three depths to house the card trays. However, longer term, much easier access to the collection was high on the requirement list for the scheme - dispensing with the need to lift off a stack of up to six boxes to reach the one at the bottom. It was anticipated that a researcher could well wish to see the contents of several entire drawers for comparative purposes and so the facility to remove entire drawers and to transport them easily to a research station was also required. In order to remove the possibility of carboxylic acid pollutants, and reduce costs, a metal system was specified. A combination of the card tray sizes, the easiest shape and size of drawer to carry and the weight factor led to the design of an oblong drawer, taking 2 x 3 units of the largest (6x8 inches) box size, but with enough space to cope with the drawer full of the smallest (3x2) size plus some finger space. The drawer size also had to approach an industry standard dimension to allow a manufactured adjustable shelving system to be adapted for adjustable runners. Three interchangeable depths of drawer were specified to allow most specimens to be housed in drawers plus some shelving. The number of drawers needed plus 30% of future expansion and the space these would take up in roller racking units had to be calculated even before the size of the new geology store could be specified. The size of this store in turn affected the size of the entire new building. This work was done when only around I 0% of the collection had been transferred to the new specimen trays and boxes. Thanks must be recorded to the volunteers who first counted and measured boxes and considerable co-operation of the storage companies. A tremendous input from volunteer packing teams over seven years prepared the collection for the move. The entire collection is now housed either in plastazote or acid free tissue padding in individual card trays or on larger scale ethafoam blocks.


Conservation of a Jurassic marine reptile.

Caroline Buttler, Department of Geology, National Museums & Galleries of Wales.

Routine monitoring of the palaeontology collections identified a ichthyosaur specimen that on first examination seemed to need a small amount of remedial work. What was to be a brief job turned into a major conservation project uncovering Victorian deception and resulted in a story that attracted international media interest. It was revealed that the ichthyosaur skeleton was not one animal but a composite of at least two different individuals and different species. 

Examination of a Jurassic ichthyosaur, in storage in the National Museums and Galleries of Wales, found extensive deterioration of the plaster mount caused by movement of the wooden frame. This had caused parts of the specimen to become dislodged and there was concern that in time they might become lost. A major conservation project developed and it was revealed that the specimen had undergone significant reconstruction when it had been first prepared. It was in fact a composite of two different species of ichthyosaur, with many bones relocated. The original damaged mount, prepared for wall display in the nineteenth century, was removed and a new lightweight support system was devised for the separate fragments of the ichthyosaur. This would allow it to be displayed as a composite specimen retaining some of the reconstructions. The new mount had to be horizontal rather than vertical and enable individual fragments to be removed for study. For support, the lower half of each of the individual fragments was moulded in EpopastTM, an epoxy/glass-fibre laminating paste. The moulds were fixed to a lightweight rigid board, the fragments placed in them, and a removable acrylic cover devised. Opportunity was taken to demonstrate the work to the public, and it attracted significant media attention. The project has resulted in a greater knowledge of the specimen and the work of Victorian preparators, and the ichthyosaur has been displayed for the first time in over 30 years.


Mechanical Preparation Techniques -A review of modern equipment.

Adrian M. Doyle, Conservation Unit, The Natural History Museum, London.

The development of palaeontological specimens has come a long way since the days of hammer and chisel and electric engravers. Modern laboratory, engineering and dental tools provide simple, quick and highly effective ways of removing a variety of clays, sediments and rock utilising percussive and ultrasonic effects. This will form part of a major review of mechanical and chemical preparation techniques for the laboratory as well as on-site practice over the coming two years.


Running noses -Lifesize Reconstruction of Nasobema lvricum.

Michaela Forthuber, Staatliches Naturhistorisches Museum, Braunschweig, Germany.

Many extinct animal species have left only few remains of their former existence. The Snouters (Rhinogradentia) divide this fate. Just a few decades ago they still lived on the Hi-lay Archipelago in the Pacific, but then the bomb hit. During an atomic test the complete archipelago sank, completely vanishing with all the snouters. But the memory of this unusual fauna shall not be forgotten: In the talk the most important representatives of that group of mammals are shown, with all their remarkable biology. Finally there is a report about the lifesize reconstruction of the probably most well-known representative: Nasobema lyricum.


The preliminary preparation of a Tendaguru brachiosaur.

David Gray, Conservation Unit, The Natural History Museum, London.

Some or the most famous dinosaurs of Africa were found from the Late Jurassic ofTendaguru in southern Tanzania. About 30 blocks of brachiosaur material need to be opened up and prepared. How does one approach the preparation of this radioactive dinosaur material? The Health and Safety implications and precautions will be discussed, as well as the methods used in the initial preparation.


Constructing a diorama: the landscape of North Hesse State about 250 million years ago.

Susanne Henssen, Palaeo Werkstatt, Switzerland.

In 1997 the Museum Korbach decided to integrate a diorama into their new exhibition on the Upper Permian in North Hesse State. The diorama, which is 12 metres square, shows what can be reconstructed from the poorly-preserved fossil remains found in the Korbach fissure filling. This lecture describes the planning process and the compromises that had to be made. It explains how a diorama should be constructed in order to produce a three-dimensional effect, and why it was not possible in this case. It discusses the modelling of the landscape with water pit and animal tracks, and the experience of working with a lighting technician more used to doing disco road shows. Finally, it shows the finished diorama, and the associated light show. Details of the actual model making were described in the 1997 SPPC meeting, and are not included in this talk.


Building a model of Psittacosaurus on the basis of a beautifully preserved specimen.

Bernd Herkner & Claudia Weissbrot, Palaeoanthropology, Senckenberg Research Institute, Germany.

The Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt has a beautifully preserved specimen of Psittacosaurus, possessing skin impressions as well as stomach contents. On the basis of this specimen a Iife size model has been reconstructed for the display.


Conserving proboscidean tusks.

Nigel Larkin.

Ancient proboscidean tusks, unless found well preserved in the frozen tundra of northern latitudes, are often problematical specimens. The nature of their internal structure means that they are often found in a poorly preserved and fragile state, with very little internal strength. This is compounded by the fact that they are also relatively long and thin but heavy, which poses specific mechanical problems meaning they are difficult to excavate without damage being inflicted. In addition the nature of the dense dentine of tusks means that even if they are excavated successfully, they are prone to deterioration and ultimately disintegration in storage areas that provide less than ideal environmental conditions.

However, because of the common depiction of elephants and mammoths in popular culture, and the general fondness people have for them, fossil tusks which are so obviously mammoth or elephantine in nature can be very popular specimens for exhibitions -they have an immediate and recognisable iconographic appeal. The costs of the satisfactory recovery, conservation and display of tusk material, however, can reach suitably mammoth proportions. Should all tusk material have money and time lavished on them? Should such expenditure only be undertaken if the conditions in which the specimen is to be kept are suitably stable? Should we re-bury tusks where we found them for safekeeping? Or simply photograph them and throw them in a skip -as has often been suggested? Examples will be given of the excavation and conservation treatment of proboscidean tusk material from four quite different sites: the 70,000 year old Neanderthal site recently discovered in Norfolk; the 450,000 year old gravels ofSwanscombe, Kent; the West Runion Freshwater Bed in Norfolk (6550-720,000 years old); and the 8 million year old deposits in the deserts of Abu Dhabi.

The excavation and conservation techniques used - both successful and those limited in their success -will be detailed, and conflicts of interest experienced during the work will be highlighted. Many of the techniques, problems and solutions shown will be relevant to the excavation and conservation of other large, fragile, fossil or subfossil specimens.


Palaeo Art Exhibition.

Robert Nicholls.

An exhibition of paintings and drawings illustrating prehistoric life and environments. One view will be images depicting dinosaurs, mosasaurs and sharks, mega beasts, giant crocodiles, and a scene from Cretaceous Antarctica. The centrepiece will be two paintings produced for the Creswell Crags Heritage Trust, "The Engraver" and "The Storyteller." Earlier this year, engravings, 12,000 years old, were discovered inside the limestone caves of Creswell Gorge. "The Engraver" and "The Storyteller'' give an insight into the life of the palaeolithic humans that lived in the caves and decorated the walls of their home with primitive and beautiful palaeo' art.


From Dragons to Sparrows. The media and the evolution of the dinosaur image.

Luis Rey, Palaeoillustion, London.

A history lesson on prejudice against science. How the traditional, iconic image of the Dinosauria as represented at a mass communication level may have distorted, hindered or slowed down the popularisation of new fossil discoveries and scientific research. The psychology of The Beast: from the initial image of gigantic reptiles compared to mammals and birds to the stagnation of dinosaur studies from the I 920's to the l960's, the time span that consolidated the stereotype of sluggish, obsolete, oversized and extinct lizards. The poster will also include a mini exhibition showing some basic patterns on how to restore the modern image of the dinosaur and keep the pace of change within current palaeontological research. With comparative examples from the artist and other illustrative examples(old and new).


Old glue and old bones, or how the 'Leeds Collection' (c1865-1917) was stuck together.

Leslie Noe1 , Sarah Finney1 & JeffListon2

  1. Sedgwick Museum, Department of Earth Sciences, Cambridge, 2. Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow.

Historical palaeontological collections are of immense importance to research scientists, but can be problematic for preparators and conservators as the materials used in the past are often unknown. The historically important fossil vertebrates and invertebrates of the 'Leeds Collection', for example, were collected from the soft clays around Peterborough, with many specimens found in numerous pieces. These pieces were rejoined, often to form beautifully preserved 3-dimensional skeletons, however, the exact nature of the glue(s) used has remained elusive. Following extensive archival research, Alfred Leeds original glue recipe has been traced and here we resurrect a glue that was used more than a century ago. This research that has direct impact on the care of the 'Leeds Collection' in numerous museums in the U.K., mainland Europe and North America.


Virtual fossils: 3D digital reconstructions from serial sections.

Mark Sutton 1, Derek E.G. Briggs2, David J. Siveter-3, Derek J. Siveter4 ·

  1. Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, 2. Department of Geology and Geophysics, Vale University, USA, 3. Department of Geology, University of Leicester, 4. University Museum of Natural History, University of Oxford.

Fossils preserved in three dimensions are inherently more informative than those squashed onto a bedding plane, but can be challenging lo work with. Those that cannot be extracted whole from the matrix by either mechanical or chemical preparation are especially problematic. For at least a century the standard approach to the study of this class of material has involved serial sawing (or grinding), producing a set of photographs or diagrams of discrete 'slices' through the fossil. However, using this data to visualise three­dimensional structures has always proved difficult. Modem computing techniques, in particular the SPIERS software package developed by the authors to reconstruct three-dimensional invertebrate fossils from the Herefordshire Lagerstatte, now provide a practical way of working with slice-image data. Tools are provided for 'virtual preparation' of datasets, and the system generates interactive onscreen three­dimensional models which can be manipulated, dissected, and viewed in stereo if required. This viewing S}stem allows the user to undertake full descriptive analyses of 'virtual fossils' on computing systems of modest power, and provides a mode of working which is in most respects preferable to working with real isolated specimens. Models can also be exported for high-quality imaging, used to generate video files viewable on any computer, or used to generate physical three-dimensional replicas through rapid­prototyping technologies.