A boy with a museum under his bed | Curator of Micropaleontology

Geode

When I was at school I had my own geological museum under my bed. Aged 6 I took some of the first specimens in my collection to school for show and tell. This summer term I found myself doing the same at my 7 year old son Pelham’s school (thank you Natasha for volunteering me). I took some specimens on loan from the Museum’s handling collection and some of my favourite specimens from my original collection.

Read on to find out about the specimen that’s been on TV, the rock that is much lighter than it looks and where in Hintze Hall you can come do your own Key Stage 2 revision on Geology.

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New book highlights archaeological and forensic applications of microfossils | Curator of Micropalaeontology

In June, a book was published highlighting the archaeological and forensic applications of micropalaeontology and a deeper understanding of human history. The Museum’s Tom Hill is one of the editors of this volume of papers, some of which feature contributions from Museum staff and associates.

New_book_cover
Cover of a new book published in June by the Micropalaeontological Society on the application of micropalaeontology to archaeological and forensic studies.

Read on to find out how Museum scientists have provided evidence about the early human occupants of the British Isles, provenance materials used in ancient pottery and provided forensic evidence for drowning and murder. A brief review of other chapters in the book underlines the importance of the study of micropalaeontology.

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The importance of being an unglamorous collection | Curator of Micropalaeontology

Most geological collections we hear about in the news are the prettiest, oldest, youngest, largest, smallest, rarest, most expensive or have some exciting story related to them that ties them to the evolution of our planet. Dinosaurs, human remains and meteorites are particularly popular. Over the last year we’ve embarked on a major curatorial project rehousing something that is the opposite – an unglamorous collection of bags of crushed rock.

Protective equipment
Curators Becky Smith, Helena Toman and Robin Hansen in protective equipment.

I’ll be explaining why the samples needed to be re-housed and most importantly why they are strategically important to the work of the Museum and needed to be kept for future reference. And also why we are all dressed up in protective equipment and why I had to learn to drive a fork lift truck! Continue reading “The importance of being an unglamorous collection | Curator of Micropalaeontology”

What do scientists do at conferences? | Curator of Micropalaeontology

The micropalaeontology team attended the annual conference of The Micropalaeontological Society in Lille last week. My wife thinks that conferences are just an excuse for drinking, but I keep telling her that this is only partly true.

Micropalaeo team
The Micropaleontology team at the TMS conference dinner at Dubuisson Brewery

Read on to find out what we were doing in Lille, besides drinking Belgian beer of course! Continue reading “What do scientists do at conferences? | Curator of Micropalaeontology”

What do fjords, climate change and our microfossil library have in common? | Curator of Micropalaeontology

Earlier this month one of our long term visitors Prof John Murray published a paper with Elisabeth Alve outlining the distribution of Foraminifera in NW European Fjords. The main purpose was to provide a baseline for assessing man’s impact on the environment.

Map Norway, N Sea, Greenland Sea
Map showing the Norwegian Coast, oceanic currents and biogeographic provinces. Murray & Alve Fig. 1. Reproduced with permission by Elsevier License 3958190505543.

Read on to hear how Prof Murray used our microfossil library and collections to support their observations and investigate other factors that could control the distribution of these important environmental indicators.

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Museum type specimens play a key role for future climate studies | Curator of Micropalaeontology

Elphidium williamsoni Haynes, 1973 is a foraminiferal species that has been used extensively in relative sea level and climate change studies, as it is characteristic of intertidal zones. Identifying this and other species of Elphidium has proven difficult because key morphological characteristics show a wide range of variation causing widespread confusion in determinations.

scanning electron micrscope image of foram
Scanning electron microscope image of the holotype of the foraminiferal species Elphidium williamsoni Haynes, 1973.

A study led by University of St Andrews PhD student Angela Roberts and recently published in the Journal PloSOne, has gone a long way to clearly define this important foraminiferal species. The study is based on measurements from Museum type specimens as well as genetic studies on contemporary material collected from the same location as the type specimens.

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Notes in the collections tell natural stories | Curator of Micropalaeontology

Earlier in the summer I tweeted a picture of a microfossil slide I made in 1997. On the back I had written that it was made while I was listening to England bowl Australia out for 118 in a cricket test match at Edgbaston, Birmingham.

slide with cricket annotation
A microfossil slide with a cricket-related annotation on the back.

The slide got me thinking about more important hidden notes I have found recently that relate to historical events and provide a context to the microfossil collection. This post examines evidence of a collector’s escape from a disintegrating ice floe, attempts to cover-up a major disagreement between two scientists and the sad end for a laboratory that led to my first job as a curator.

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Chance discovery contributes to origins and evolution focus | Curator of Micropalaeontology

When I first came to the Museum I dreamt that one day someone would bring something in for identification that I would recognise to be a really important find. The contents of a consultancy sample back in 2005 helped to make my wish come true. This post tells of the discovery and subsequent publication of a significant species of early fossil fish from Oman that provides information on the origins and evolution of life on our planet, one of the main focus areas of Museum science.

Montage of photos showing close ups of fossil plates and scales
Examples of plates and scales of the early fish Sacabambaspis

Very occasionally I get consultancy rock samples sent to me for dissolving to find microfossils. This is so that we can provide the age for a rock formation or details about fossil environments or climate. And so it was that Alan Heward, then of Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), sent me a sample in 2005 for analysis to try to find age diagnostic conodonts. Conodonts are extinct phosphatic microfossils that look like teeth and are used extensively for dating rocks that are roughly 500-205 million years old.

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A new microfossil display at the Museum | Curator of Micropalaeontology

Last month a new temporary display featuring some of our foraminiferal specimens and models was placed in the Museum gallery. This features real microfossils on one of our foraminiferal Christmas card slides alongside 20 scale models, part of a set of 120 models generously donated to us last year by Chinese scientist Zheng Shouyi.

Senior Microfossil Curator Steve Stukins admiring some of the specimens and models on display and thinking
Senior Microfossil Curator Steve Stukins admiring some of the specimens and models on display and thinking “this is a much better place for them than the Curator of Micropalaeontology’s office!”

As a curator dealing with items generally a millimetre or less in size I have not often been involved in developing exhibits other than to provide images or scale models like the Blaschka glass models of radiolarians. Displaying magnified models is one of the best ways to show the relevance of some of the smallest specimens in the Museum collection, the beauty and composition of foraminifera and to highlight our unseen collections.

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