No substitute for seeing a specimen

I’m working on a description of a specimen right now. It’s something I’ve seen before (since it’s not an IVPP specimen) and I have some notes on it and various photos, but without the material to hand, the basis of my description was on these notes and photos and not the material directly. Finally I’ve got hold of it again to try and polish it up and add in some more details. I hadn’t expected to have too much to go, but it was nearly instantly obviously that despite  the notes and photos I’d made a couple of pretty bad errors. This was, naturally, the point of going back to the original material to check these kinds of things but it makes a point worth emphasising here.

There is simply no substitute for seeing a specimen firsthand and up close. It really doesn’t matter how good the descriptions, photos, drawings etc. are you will see things better and less ambiguously and more precisely in person. This is especially true of flattened things like from the Solnhofen and Liaoning.  The ability to see things up close and turn them to the light just-so or switch between say left and right elements instantly can make a huge difference to your appreciation of the specimen and allow you to pick up things that would never otherwise get noted. It’s pretty much inevitably worth the effort and should always be a priority.

4 Responses to “No substitute for seeing a specimen”

  1. 1 mattvr 02/05/2010 at 2:35 pm

    This applies to any venture where you have to describe something. Artists, for example, get no better grounding in a subject than direct experience.

  2. 2 Heinrich Mallison 08/05/2010 at 6:45 pm

    >>There is simply no substitute for seeing a specimen firsthand and up close.<<

    indeed – now, can anyone here please explain to me why half the palaeo-world is so exited about Greg Paul's upcoming book, which will again be full or minute drawings of stuff he has never ever seen?

  3. 3 Scott Hartman 11/05/2010 at 3:09 am

    Well said David,

    Even with a cast (which in some cases does a reasonable job) it can still be difficult to determine if a surface contour is real or has been subject to restoration (or over preparation), etc. Although when it comes to “flat” fossils from Liaoning and and Solnhofen, I would make the case that a cast can be an excellent supplement while looking at the original specimen, since it can reveal 3d relief that is may be obscured (even in real life) by shadows, discoloration, etc.

  1. 1 Taxonomic practice and publications « Dave Hone's Archosaur Musings Trackback on 26/05/2011 at 7:31 am
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