Summerasuarus: Dino Storage

Posted: September 21, 2011 - 08:53 , by royal

Recently, we visited at the Vertebrate Palaeontology Lab to see how dinosaur bones are extracted from their plaster field jackets after they are hauled back from the field by palaeontologists like Dr. David Evans.

But where does the ROM store these fossils once they are free from their rock matrix? Welcome to Vertebrate Palaeontology Collections room, housing more than 75,000 fossilized bone specimens ranging in size from small toes to an entire row of Hadrosaur skulls!

Duck-billed dinosaurs (hadrosaurs) neatly stored in the collections room at the Royal Ontario Museum.

A variety of hadrosaur skulls (duck-billed dinosaurs), neatly labeled and shelved, ready for visiting researchers to examine, or to be put on display.

Dr. Kevin Seymour, an Assistant Curator in Vertebrate Palaeontology, is responsible for maintaining order among more than 75,000 specimens housed in over 3,500 drawers and shelves. The ROM’s astounding collection is visited regularly by palaeontologists and biologists who must be able to locate specimens easily and efficiently. The collection is now almost entirely digitized and searchable through a large database, but this new technology didn’t exist when the collection was started over 100 years ago – everything was written down by hand on cards in a card catalogue!

Looking down one of the ailse in the collections area. Wooden drawers line each wall and hold medium and small fossils.

Kevin Seymour locates a fossil at the end of one of the many aisles of compact shelving that house smaller dinosaur bones and other vertebrate fossils. The aisles are on runners and close together to use the storage space more efficiently, but Kevin promised that nobody has ever been crushed!

Most of the specimens are small enough that they can be housed in drawers in one of many aisles of compact shelving. Specimens of such animals as Dire Wolf and Smilodon from the tar pits of Peru will continue to emit noxious tar gasses indefinitely and so must be housed carefully and be ventilated. A few fossils come from mildly radioactive rocks and so are stored in special lead-lined and ventilated cabinets. Several drawers and shelf spaces are required to house all the fossil specimens from an individual dinosaur. In that case, each drawer and shelf has a tag that lets researchers know there is more to see elsewhere.

If a specimen is large or heavy, such as the field jacket of osteoderms pictured below, it is stored on a wheeled platform so that it can easily be pulled out and studied.

Rough, round brown bumps are partially embedded in the rock base.

These osteoderms are still partially embedded in their rock matrix and plaster field jacket to preserve the position in which they were found. Osteoderms are bones that develop under the skin, but are NOT attached to the spine, like the large plates on the back of a Stegosaurus or the small bumps under the skin of a crocodile.

While the Vertebrate Palaeontology collections room houses tens of thousands of individual dinosaur fossils, the best and biggest of these are stored by being put on display in the James and Louise Temerty Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs for the public to enjoy and experience. These galleries can be seen as an extension of the collections areas for the largest and most complete dinosaur specimens at the ROM.

When the dinosaurs were installed in their new home in the Michael Lee Chin Crystal in the Fall of 2007, they were all mounted on special armatures. Instead of drilling holes through a bone to attach it to the metal support mount, the new armature uses prongs that grasp each bone firmly, but unobtrusively. Each bone is individually attached to the large metal support armature. If a staff or visiting palaeontologist needs to examine a particular bone, it can be disconnected fairly easily and transported to the collections for closer examination.

This extensive system for both housing and researching fossils has required a lot of careful thought and has undergone several upgrades over the years to ensure that the ever-growing collection remains as manageable and accessible as possible.

See the Summerasaurus Dino series for more on the ROM’s hunt for dinos!