Yesterday I talked about my amazing time traveling research in the journal Geological Curator. As you might imagine this focuses on the ‘behind the scenes’ side of museum work – preparing and storing fossils and minerals and all the accompanying aspects of this. While obviously I spend a fair bit of my time in museums, this is a bit of a departure for me, but the paper was fun to do.
In this case it deals with the modifications made to a pair of pterosaur specimens held in the collections at Dublin. Well, sort of. You might think this means that someone went over them and damaged or destroyed the bones, or tried to mend and improve them. In fact the description is about how the two were mounted for sale. In both cases the surfaces of the specimens appear to have been polished to make them very smooth, plaster has been added to cover up cracks, and screws have been sunk through the matrix of the slabs and into a heavy wooden case.
If all of this sounds horrifying then don’t be too alarmed. For a start this was done in the late 1800s and this kind of thing was hardly uncommon (though the screws thing is new to me). Secondly, despite all of this, in some cases fairly drastic, modification it was done with some care. The fossil dealers responsible have done all of this without really affecting the quality of the material at all and that’s quite impressive. What was done was clearly there with the aim of making the material look nicer, but not at the expense of the information it contained.
Given the ongoing issues with chimeras, faked fossils and the like it’s almost refreshing to see that 120 years ago, commercial dealers were actually careful with the scientific information in their material and presumably understood that researchers were interested in that. It’s a lesson a few people could do with now sadly.
Hone, D.W.E. 2010. A short note on modifications to Nineteenth Century pterosaur specimens held in the National Museum of Ireland – Natural history, Dublin. Geological Curator, 9: 261-265.