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Fossil Fish blog

3 Posts tagged with the dinosaur tag
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As part of my job I often work with other curators and museum professionals. Part of having such a good network of colleagues is that we can learn from each other (us 'experts' don't know everything!).


Back in January (27th - 31st), I had the pleasure of the assistance of Alex Peaker who is a palaeontologist at Dinosaur Isle Museum on the Isle of Wight. Alex wanted to come to the Palaeontology Section to see how we document our specimens and deal with research visitors.

 

Here Alex tells us a bit about his job at Dinosaur Isle Museum and what he got up to during the week...

AlexPeakerCrop.jpgAlex Peaker ready to start his week with us at the Natural History Museum.


Dinosaur Isle is a museum that promotes the wealth of geology and palaeontology that can be found on the Isle of Wight. It displays a particularly fantastic collection of local dinosaur finds.

 

In a normal day's work I mostly deal with curation of the collection, spending much of my time documenting specimens into our electronic database, working with associated documentation, assisting with any enquiries, and facilitating research on our specimens.

 

Last year I had the fantastic opportunity to work for the museum with the Isle of Wight Destination Management Organisation, BBC, and 20th Century Fox, teaming together to work on promotion for the recently-released film Walking with Dinosaurs - the 3d movie. The result saw the creation of the Dinosaur Island augmented reality app, which has been a fantastic success in promoting the movie, the island, and our dinosaurs.

 

Recently I was given the chance to spend a week working at the Natural History Museum, which was greatly appreciated; the time that I spent there was absolutely amazing. The reason for the trip was to further my ability in curation, to work with people who have a wealth of experience in the area and to see how our practices compare to that of a national museum.

 

I spent the week working with Emma Bernard in the Fossil Fish Section, looking at:

  • documentation procedure
  • digitisation of the collection onto the Museum database (KE EMu)
  • general museum standards and policies
  • interpretation and outreach
  • display and storage of specimens

 

It was great to be able to work with such an amazing collection, and often with fossils that I have only seen in books. Virtually every drawer I opened seemed to have either a type fossil (the single specimen designated by an author to formally describe a new species), or something with an interesting history (e.g. donated by Sir Richard Owen). My personal favourites were a large Brychaetus (prehistoric bony fish) skull from the Isle of Sheppey, and a particularly large megalodon tooth (everybody loves a big shark, but even for megalodon this one was a real beast).

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Large Brychaetus skull (NHMUK PV P 3893), found from the Isle of Sheppey, UK.

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Megalodon tooth (NHMUK PV P 14534), found in Virgina, USA.


I was also given a chance to visit the Cephalopod and Brachiopod Section with Zoe Hughes, which was very interesting. I was shown some fantastic fossils including an amazing squid showing preservation of all of its soft tissue, and was even privileged enough to have a viewing of the 'Royal Brachiopod' (a fossil collected by Darwin on the Falklands that is often used as an example to royal visitors).

 

Thankfully the procedures set up at the Museum are very similar to those that I would work by at Dinosaur Isle but with some differences, most of which seem to derive from the size of the collections and slightly different collection policies (apart from a few comparative pieces, our collection holds exclusively Isle of Wight fossils whereas the Museum collects specimens from all over the world).

 

I learnt a lot in a week at the Museum with much of my newly-gained experience already having been a help at Dinosaur Isle. It was great to work with a fantastic group of people who were incredibly helpful and showed me a lot of great things.

I would like to thank the South East Museum Development Programme for the funding and making this opportunity possible.

 

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Alex photographing shark fin spines we brought back from Morocco.

 

Thanks very much to Alex for all his help during the week. He helped to document a lot of the specimens we collected whilst in Morocco and locate several specimens connected with our upcoming Sir Arthur Smith Woodward Symposium. I also learnt from Alex by discussing how he carries tasks out at Dinosaur Isle.

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On Friday 27 September the Museum will be holding Science Uncovered, part of the Europe-wide Researchers' Night.

 

Science Uncovered involves almost all the Museum's staff and volunteers talking to visitors about their job, recent research or their favourite specimens. If that isn't enough to tempt you, how about joining one of the Museum tours, or having a drink with a scientist to talk about their work, and maybe ending the night dancing under Dippy's tail with a DJ?

 

An evening with the fossil fish

 

On the night our team will be out in force...

 

Dr Zerina Johnanson will be talking about her work on fish specimens from the London Clay. These are beautifully three-dimensional specimens, which Zerina and her colleagues have been CT-scanning to reveal their internal structures so come along on to see inside these amazing fossils.

 

Chie Heath, one of our many fantastic volunteers, will be talking about the TLC she gives specimens (otherwise known as reboxing), which she carries out on the fossil fish collection.

 

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Picture of the Holotype of Percostoma angustum, a bony fish from the London Clay of the Isle of Sheppey.

 

Do you know who Sir Arthur Smith Woodward is? Mike Smith, another member of our fantastic volunteer team will be talking about our upcoming symposium to celebrate Woodward's contributions to the palaeontology world, specifically involving fossil fish. Woodward joined the Museum when he was only 18 in 1892, and spent his entire career here.

 

fossil-fish-img2-woodward.jpgA rather serious looking Sir Arthur Smith Woodward.

 

Myself, Research Associate David Ward and volunteer David Baines will be talking about our experiences of fieldwork - why we went to Woodeaton Quarry to collect samples (see my last blog entry), the processes involved in sieving and acid-preparing specimens, and what we have found so far. Woodeaton has proved to be a great site and so far we have found an early dinosaur tooth, a very early mammal tooth, bits of crocodile and lots of microfossils.

 

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One of our many Woodeaton samples being washed before we check for fossils.

 

PhD student Joe Keating from the University of Bristol will have several fossil fish specimens on show, and will be talking about the wide diversity of fish and how they evolved over time. You may have seen Joe at a past Nature Live event.

 

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Joe Keating during his last Nature Live talk.

 

We will also have Dr Martha Richter talking about her work on fossil fish and Research Associate Sally Young talking about fossil eels.

 

There will be a member of the fossil fish team on a table in Marine Reptile Way (where all the Ichthyosaurs are displayed on the wall). So why not come along and say hi! It is a free event with lots to see and do. If you are unable to attehnd, keep up-to-date by following us on Twitter (@NHM_FossilFish) or follow the hashtag #SU2013 for updates across the whole Museum.

 

I'm now off to pack for my next fieldwork trip to Morocco! Keep checking back to hear all about it!

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am lucky enough to participate in collection enhancing fieldwork. One place I have been to several times over the last year is Woodeaton Quarry near Oxford.

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A small part of the quarry

 

The quarry is disused and is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) as it contains one of the best exposures of upper Bathonian (about 160-million-year-old) rocks in the UK. Because of this the site is of great palaeontological interest. The rocks represent a marine or marginal marine environment.

 

Many different fossils have been found there in the past, including shark teeth, brachiopods and dinosaurs! Over the next few years the quarry is due to be filled in, but part of the Bathonian rocks will remain exposed. Therefore it is important we take samples of the different rock layers and try to understand the geology better.

 

A team of Museum scientists and curators went to the quarry over a period of a couple of months to take lots of pictures, determine the geology and how each rock level changes, and to plan for a week long expedition to recover lots of fossils.

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Myself and Museum scientist Steve Stukins, having a closer look at the rock.

 

In June this year our team went to the quarry for a week to collect bulk samples (large bags of rock and sediment) to bring back to the Museum, sieve, wash away all the rock and have a closer look for fossils. Most of the fossils are tiny and need to be looked at under a microscope.

 

We had people from different disciplines looking for microfossils, pollen, small vertebrates and invertebrates. Unfortunately, on this occasion we did not find any large vertebrates but we certainly have lots of small and microscopic fossils!

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Myself and PhD student Simon Wills loading the van full of bulk samples

 

The infomation we find out will be given to Natural England so they can make infomation boards about the site. Several scientists connected with the Museum will publish results to help others in understanding this time period better. The fossils we find will form an important part of our palaeontology collections for scientists to use in the future and maybe if we are lucky we might even find a new species!

 

As the bulk samples are processed and we start identifying what we have recovered I will write another post to update everyone on our findings.