Monday, 21 January 2013

Not just labels - potted histories?

The JISC GB/3D Type Fossils Online project is not solely about fossils – we are also photographing any historical labels which are associated with the specimen, like those that you see in the example below

The labels affixed to the back of this specimen carry a “potted history” of the fossil, and tell us a lot of things, such as:

·         The original date, collector and location
·         The specimen has been renumbered at least twice – we might find these old numbers referred to in old accession registers or catalogues
·         The specimen has been recognised as the type of it's species, and assigned a new name, in this case Vetacapsula hemingwayi
·         It has been figured or cited, in two  Journal articles

We already store much of this information on our publicly accessible database, PalaeoSaurus so why bother to photograph it again? Well, some of the reasons include:

·         As a safeguard against mistakes made when transcribing the data – although we are as careful as possible, mistakes may have been made in the past
·         Being able to examine a sample of the handwriting of a particular known collector or curator can prove extremely valuable in identifying other unknown specimens
·         To protect against loss – old labels may not be on archival paper, or written with archival ink, or they may simply fall off the specimen and become lost

We hope that this has provided an insight into another part of our process. In case you were wondering, Vetacapsula hemingwayi is the name given to the egg-case of a prehistoric shark. Their appearance, coupled with the fact that they were frequently found associated with fossil plants in the Coal Measures rocks, meant that for many years it was believed that they were some kind of plant fossil.

Simon Harris

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