The University of Texas at Austin Texas Natural Science Center Non-vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory

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Why Keep Collections?

1. What do fossils tell us?

They allow us to follow the evolution of life on Earth. Without fossils we would not know that trilobites or dinosaurs or rudists ever existed. Neither would we know that there have been major extinctions in the past.

They record global change in climate, geography, biodiversity, and chemistry of the oceans.

They give us an important means to determine the age of sedimentary rocks and provide clues to possible natural resources.

2. Why keep them after they have been studied?

Apart from the fact that they are just 'cool' specimens....some must be kept for reference purposes. A few specimens are selected to represent each newly described species, those are called the 'type' specimens. When new related species are being described they are compared to these type specimens.

Sometimes it is the specimen in the collection that provides the clue, the missing link, to solve the mystery fossil puzzle such as the famous 'conodont' animal case.


What are fossils?

Fossils are the remnants of living organsims that existed thousands or millions of years ago. There is fossil evidence of bacterial life existing over 3 billion years ago.

These fossils may be just impressions or traces of activity (such as burrows and borings), they may be casts of original shells or they can be hard parts of the organism in various stages of alteration. Soft tissues are very rarely preserved, and even the preservation of the more resistant hard parts of an organism is a rare event.

The full extent of the scientific value of a fossil is not always realized immediately by the collector.

Preservation of the fossil, as little altered as possible, allows others in the future to study the specimens with new techniques, new ideas and compare them with additional specimens.

A relatively new technique CT scanning now allows us to investigate inside specimens without having to cut them and thus destroy the specimen in the process. Here is an example

Examining the stable isotope composition of well preserved specimens can reveal aspects of the oceans they lived in and also their life histories.

We cannot predict when new techniques will be developed or when new specimens will be found so it is extremely important to preserve past collections for future use.

All sorts of creatures and "monsters'' that are no longer around now tell us what life was once like.

So you never know when any specimen may become a critical key to solve a particular problem.
Or when a later researcher may want to check up on some earlier work.
Or when a new technique can be applied to the specimen.



Frequently used abbreviations: NPL  Non-vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory | TNSC Texas Natural Science Center | UTDGS Department of Geological Sciences | BEG  Bureau of Economic Geology | VPL Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory | JSG  Jackson School of Geosciences | SUPPORT | VOLUNTEER | GLOSSARY

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