Fossil Fish, PT. III: The Preparation

Fossil Fish, PT. III: The Preparation


Hey, we’re here back at The Field Museum with Akiko, who is the Fossil Preparator. – Yep!
– And we are going to be working on some of the fish that we excavated from Wyoming. What’s next? So what kind of tools and things are necessary to prepare a fossil? – Well, you’re holding the basic tool, it’s called a pin vice. It’s a pin vice holder with a carbide needle right here. – So essentially it’s just like a fancy metal pick.
– Pretty much. – So you have that, we have a high powered microscope, that we have a light on so we can see the scales and the bones. – And then you scrape away the matrix away from the fossils. – And that’s it.
– Yeah, basically. – All right, I’m going to try my hand, literally, at this. I’m just afraid I’m going to scratch away the whole thing. – Let me see what’s going on. Yeah, you can see fine. Here, if you… if you start… follow this bone, like a long bone… If you push down the pedal, a little gentle airflow will come out from this hose and get rid of your matrix for you. Very gentle air coming out of your hose. If you keep on scraping away a little tiny bit at a time… and then you can start to see a brown, and that’s basically the bone. – Oh, I can see it starting to come out. Whoa, this is awesome. Have these techniques been used historically? How much has this changed from when people were preparing fossils a hundred years ago? – I think that it’s basically the same. – It hasn’t changed that much?
– It hasn’t really changed much. Maybe the microscope has gotten much better. – Why do you think it hasn’t changed that much? – Well, it’s just a basic thing, you know? How much more—what sort of invention can you do to make changes to hand tools? You know, the basic idea is to have the point and to scratch the matrix away. – That’s a very weird noise. So what is this thing that I am now using? – This is an air scribe, Micro-Jack #1. – And why is it making that noise? – It’s operated by highly compressed air and then there’s a hole in the tool that releases the air pressure as the needle vibrates, and that makes that weird noise. – It’s way more efficient than doing it by hand, but I also feel like I’m going to destroy the specimen if I continue— Ohp, I just blew off a scale. I screwed it up. So we’ve got the total manual version of this which is just slow picking at the matrix, then you’ve got this crazy thing that makes my hand feel really weird and makes a funny noise but this is like your mechanized, miniature jackhammer. – Yep! – A pneumatic jackhammer. And then there’s another way you can also excavate a fossil.
– Sure! – What’s that?
– Air abrasive machine. – An air abrasive machine.
– Yep. – All right, let’s go check it out. – Yeah, you can show me how to do it. Want to sit here? – No, it’s okay. That way you get like a year of what you could do. Keep on moving the nozzle, so you know, you don’t poke a crater on it. Some parts of the matrix should be easy to remove, and some parts of the matrix might be more stubborn. – Gotcha.
– Yeah.
– All right. This is the most mechanized way to prepare a fossil. What is this? – The inside of the tank has this fine powder, the dolomite powder. Very fine powder. – And this is blasting the powder onto the fossil. – Yep! And then knocks the matrix away. Kind of like a miniature sandblaster.
– Oh, okay. I think this is a coprolite. – Oh yeah.
– Got some fossilized poop. All right. This is amazing! You can just watch the whole tail coming out. It’s kind of like a coloring book. You’re just kind of like slowly filling in all the spaces and looking at all the different parts. Also I’m having a blast with this pneumatic machine! You get that pun? That was a joke.
– Ha, ha.
– Get it? Oh, man. I mean, it’s just cool that we got to go to Wyoming and we got to be there in the field excavating these fossils and then bringing them all the way back here and then seeing all of the work that goes into preparing.
– Yep! – We’ve probably been here for an hour and I’ve got a square inch of fossil work done so it gives me a better appreciation for the giant dinosaurs that are on display or even the rest of the fish. – Yeah.
– It’s cool.
– Cool! – Good job!
– Well, you too! – Thanks!
– Yeah.
– Yeah.

18 thoughts on “Fossil Fish, PT. III: The Preparation

  1. Enjoy this video I made while working with Fossil Butte National Monument, which showcases the green river formation, and see how we prepared our fossils: http://www.nps.gov/media/video/view.htm?id=FFB262AD-155D-451F-67CD5BFB722FF50E 

  2. Love the episode as always! If I may make one suggestion: the classical music is perhaps not very appealing to the target audience of young people who you're trying to get interested in the museum and the show. I realise there can be copyright issues with using more recent music, but honestly classical music can turn younger folk like myself (and even younger people who are still in school; a large part of your target audience, I assume) right off. I love everything the Brain Scoop does but I think updating the music choices would be advantageous! 🙂

  3. They actually make toys where a plastic fossil is encased in compacted sand and you get a little wooden chisel and a brush. It slow work, but oddly fun and soothing. So watching this done for real for fun. 🙂

  4. If I liked the "Blast-joke"… Does that make me a nerd aswell? 😛 
    Not that I would mind being put in that category 🙂

  5. I have prepared several fossil fish from Wyoming in garage. I excavated a really nice Diplomystus denatus and several really good Knightia eocaena.

  6. I think I find The Brain Scoop so enrapturing because Emily is so genuinely fascinated by just everything.

  7. It reminds of how dentists clean your teeth ) I also remember reading about archeology, and the author says, they often use used dentist tools, they are the best.

  8. My father told me that the things that don't change over time don't change because they are already being done the most efficient way possible, and making it more complicated won't make it any better or faster. Like putting on your socks.

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