2008, Dublin.



A preliminary investigation into the removal and remedial conservation of labels from fossil specimens

Felicity Bolton and Paolo Viscardi

Horniman Museum and Gardens, 100 London Road, Forest Hill, SE23 3PQ, UK (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

Labels associated with fossil specimens contain explicit and inherent information. Explicit information commonly reports species and locality, but collector name and other secondary data are often omitted. Inherent information such as handwriting and label style can provide information about the collector. Inherent but ambiguous information, such as undefined numbers, may relate to notebooks or locations, which can prove valuable in reconstructing a context for the specimens. It is important that these data remain with the specimen and remain in a fit state for subsequent curatorial research.

Unfortunately, labels deteriorate over time, with ink fading, adhesives failing and physical and chemical damage leading to fragmentation. In order to maintain explicit information new labels can be added, but the old labels also need to be stabilised in order to preserve inherent information. It falls to curatorial staff and conservators to preserve labels in situ or to salvage and repair those that are detaching and have deteriorated.

This study highlights the curatorial importance of retrieving information and investigates remedial conservation methods for the safe removal, repair and storage of labels from specimens – with examples of those currently being conserved for the refurbishment of the Horniman Museum Natural History Gallery.


Environmental damage to palaeontological specimens

Adrian M. Doyle and Ana Citores

Palaeontology Conservation Unit, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

It has long been established that inappropriate environmental conditions cause damage to palaeontological specimens but whilst there is much anecdotal evidence there are few recorded facts.

Initial research using crude one-channel dimensional displacement probes and saturated salt solutions to create various humilities, shows that so long as certain humidity thresholds are not exceeded, some specimens can return to their original dimensions: However this is time consuming for the operator and not an effective or a reliable way to gather data.

A recent purchase of mobile three-channel radio telemetric displacement transducers and a micro-climate generator are being used to help identify the relationship between environmental change and physical changes in specimens (such as cracking and splitting), in particular sub-fossil bone which is very vulnerable to fluctuating humidity.

This project is helping us understand the relationship of deterioration to inappropriate environments including the effectiveness of existing HVAC systems, irreversible damage and the stability of conservation treatments including consolidants and fillers.

The equipment will not only enable us to identify collections which are vulnerable but also those specimens on display that are also vulnerable and to feed this information into collections standards policies and recommendations.


A new suit for the Dublin pliosaur

Scott Moore-Fay

Palaeontology Conservation Unit, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

The Palaeontology Conservation Unit (NHM, London) was contracted by the National Museum of Ireland to undertake the preparation and conservation of the type skull of the Rhomaleosaurus cramptoni. This Jurassic Pliosaur remains to this day the largest complete pliosaur ever discovered, and is currently known from this single complete specimen. Discovered in 1848 near Kettleness Yorkshire, this specimen eventually found its way to Dublin, where it was displayed intermittently from 1922-1962. It has remained in storage ever since.

Following the skulls’ arrival in London a full assessment of its condition was carried out. The skull had been set into a mixture of plaster, bricks, and pieces of sandstone. Much of the skulls’ original detail was obscured by previous repairs and pyrite treatments. The skull had broken into two large pieces: the cranium and the rostrum along with numerous smaller pieces. Preparation revealed many interesting details of the original Victorian preparation and mounting.

The skulls’ weight, which exceeds 60kg, made it very difficult to turn over making preparation and research difficult and potentially dangerous. To overcome this problem a two- piece epoxy supporting jacket was built up during preparation and provided support for the specimen throughout its subsequent transportation, examination and storage.


Blood, sweat and scars for life: the complications of comparative shark material

Emma-Louise Nicholls and Charlie Underwood

School of Earth Sciences, Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HX, UK (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

Shark and ray skeletons are comprised of prismatic cartilage that is enclosed in a mineralised layer of calcium apatite tesserae. This skeletal structure gives sharks robustness and flexibility in life, but is susceptible to decay and disarticulation after death resulting in the low preservation potential of shark skeletal material. Subsequently the vast majority of fossil shark material comprises isolated teeth. Although potentially identifiable to specific level, identification of isolated shark teeth is complicated by monognathic, dignathic, sexual and ontogenetic heterodonty. Although most Post-Palaeozoic fossil sharks have living relatives, the dentitions of many modern taxa are very poorly known hampering easy comparison. It is therefore essential that comparative material of modern dentitions is available for use in untangling the palaeontological taxonomic problems. Here we investigate the different methods used to extract modern jaws and skulls and demonstrate the numerous complications of cooking, bleaching, distortion, afflictions to the olfactory organs, adhesives and safety issues.

Please note: All specimens described here were bi-products obtained from fish markets and were landed whole for human consumption.

Dingerkus, G., Séret, B. and Guilbert, E. 2005. Multiple prismatic calcium phosphate layers in the jaws of present-day sharks (Chondrichthyes; Selachii). Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 47, 38-40.


A Triceratops skull in Birmingham at 50 and 100: discovered 1908, transported 1958

Leslie F. Noè1 and Arthur R. I. Cruickshank2

1Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum, Millennium Point, Curzon Street, Birmingham B4 7XG, UK (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), 2Department of Geology, University of Leicester, University Avenue, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

Thinktank, the Birmingham Science Museum, displays a skull of the horned dinosaur, Triceratops collected in 1908 in Montana, USA, and which arrived at the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery (BM&AG) in 1958. This contribution thereby marks a double anniversary, and will detail what is known about the source and collection of the specimen; how it was acquired by Birmigham Museum; its packing, transport and associated costs; and how it is currently displayed at Thinktank.

The Birmingham Triceratops was discovered on 9th August 1908 by a team including Barnum Brown, Peter Kaisen and C.H. Lambert for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York. The skull was collected from the Latest Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation of Montana, although the site of recovery is now covered by the Fort Peck Reservoir. Following prolonged correspondence between Edwin H. Colbert (Curator or Reptiles and Amphibians, AMNH) and L. Bilton (Keeper, BM&AG) the skull was purchased by BM&AG for US$2000, plus the costs of transport. The skull was crated up by AMNH staff and transported on the Cunard liner Sylvania in 1958. Following customs clearance at Liverpool, the skull was transported to Birmingham, and the crate lifted into the Museum through a third story window. Following instructions provided by the AMNH, the skull was unpacked and mounted on a pre-prepared metal armature and became the centrepiece of Birmingham’s new Evolution gallery, accompanied by many specimens from the Natural Sciences collections. In 2000, the Triceratops skull was transferred to Thinktank for display and it remains a central pillar of the Wild Life gallery. The Triceratops will feature prominently in the planned redisplay of the Natural Sciences collections, provisionally entitled ‘Changing Planet’.

The foresight of the City Museum in acquiring of this specimen has made Birmingham one of the few cities in the UK to display a stunning, virtually complete and three-dimensionally preserved original skull of Triceratops. It remains an iconic and resonant specimen, much loved by visitors old and young alike.


The effectiveness of Synocryl 9123s during the acid preparation process

Melissa Schiele

Palaeontology Conservation Unit, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

This research looks into the chemical synocryl 9123s, formally known as Bedacryl 122x (Cray Valley) which has been used at the Natural History Museum in London as a protective resin during the acid bathing process. However, its integrity is now being questioned, and an alternative synocryl (9122x) may be replacing the older synocryl and tests are being carried out in order to justify the change.

The solvents used during this research were acetone, toluene and butanone. Various methods of microscopy (SEM, FTIR, and ZYGO) were enlisted in order to get a detailed look at how the synocryl interacts with the surface of the bone.

This research is very important as it would seem that the old synocryl 9123s has reached the end of its workable life and it has an international significance in the world of Palaeontological conservation, as poly butyl methacrylates are commonly used in acid preparation (including Acryloid B-67).


Fossil preparation skills: available information for both ‘amateur’ and pro.

Remmert Schouten

Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queens Road, Bristol, Avon, UK, BS8 1RJ (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

In the literature and other resources more information on preparation techniques is growing quickly. This is to be encouraged as there is relatively little out there. The growth in available material is helped by resources such as the www, and many in the trade have long argued for this. The growth is largely explained by initiatives such as of the SVP preparators meeting where posters, talks and other resources are now collated in a collective, publicly accessible space. Much useful detail is available already despite the fact publications number only 20 or so. A helpful list of titles of past presentations in the Preparators session is a good guide to other expertise out there. In the past there have been helpful initiatives before like the Paleotechniques volume aimed at the professional preparator as well as guide books on how to collect fossils aimed at the wider audience. Other helpful techniques can be found throughout the literature included in the ‘methods’ section. Presumably the general public will find it difficult to find simple guidelines towards preparing fossils. Arguably there is need for teaching resources illustrating the basics for minimal field prep, Airscribe use, Airabrasive use and minimal field preparation. Potentially, this provides huge benefits for the palaeontological community as a whole, both academic as well as ‘amateur’. These theoretical benefits and examples of what kind of information out there are discussed and the audience will be invited to give feedback.

Barker, P, .1977. Techniques of Archaeological Excavation.

Camp, C.L. & Dallas Hanna, G. 1937. Methods in Paleontology.

Feldmann, R.M, Chapman, R.E. & Hannibal, J.T. 1989. Paleotechniques.

Leiggi, P. & May, P. 1994. Vertebrate Paleontological Techniques (Volume One).

Sutton, M.Q. & Arkush, B.S. 1996. Archaeological Laboratory Methods, An Introduction.




The pilot conservation of two Blaschka glass models of micro-organisms

Liesa Stertz

32 Crescent Grove, Clapham, London SW4 7AH, UK (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

The talk reflects the examination and treatment of two Victorian glass models of micro- organisms made by the German glass artisans Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka. The highly aesthetic objects are part of a collection held at the Natural History Museum in London and have been chosen for pilot conservation, due to their relatively poor condition. The two models consist of glass, organic materials and occasional copper wire. Major conservation issues were identified as breakages and detachments of extremely fragile glass spines, the partially unstable glass compositions and consequent deterioration, the presence of a water-soluble coating, copper wire corrosion and inappropriate previous storage conditions. Characterisation of the original materials and their deterioration processes was carried out using a range of analytical facilities available at the museum, allowing the development of suitable treatments. These included a two-stage cleaning process, stabilisation of copper corrosion, reattachment of broken spines with Paraloid B72/Fynebond and reversible remounting of fragments using micro-tubing. A series of tests was carried out to assess the possibility of using 3D CAT and laser scanning for documentation. Recommendations are also made for future storage, conservation and research.