Fossils do not come out of the ground ready to use. Usually they are brought back to the institution in a field jacket, still embedded in matrix, and require preparation, the process by which the fossil is exposed, to enable them to be studied.
The extent to which a specimen gets prepared is determined by the paleontologist’s goals for that particular specimen and is usually undertaken with a specific aim in mind. They may be research goals e.g., to expose features for identification or for further study. Alternatively, the specimen might be prepared for exhibition; depending on the nature of the fossil, this could involve leaving the specimen partially embedded in matrix, or completely removing the matrix and mounting the fossil on a supporting armature.
Preparation techniques include the following methods:
- Mechanical - using various types of physical force to remove the matrix from around the specimen. Learn more…
- Chemical - applying particular compounds, or combinations of compounds, to the specimen to dissolve the surrounding matrix. Learn more…
- Non-invasive – non-contact, non-destructive technological tools that can be used to obtain information from the specimen. Learn more…
- Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s (SVP) Preparators Materials & Methods
- Preplist - This is a list devoted to the exchange of information, questions, opinions, etc. about preparation of vertebrate fossils
- The website of the Vertebrate Paleontology Preparation Laboratory at the Yale Peabody Museum gives information on the preparation of some important collections in their collection.
- National Park Service Conserve-O-Gram series has an article on Vertebrate Skeletons: Preparation and Storage
- The Stony Brook University Vertebrate Fossil Preparation Laboratory website outlines basic preparation techniques.
- Information on fossil preparation techniques from The Vertebrate Paleontology Department Of The Florida Museum Of Natural History
- For a good site for school children to learn about fossil preparation go with Flat Stanley on a visit to the University of California Museum of Paleontology and their Paleo Lab.
Amaral, William W. 1994. Microscopic preparation. Vertebrate paleontological techniques Volume 1. Patrick Leiggi and Peter May eds. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Clark, Sandy and Ian Morrison. 1994. CT scan of fossils. Vertebrate paleontological techniques Volume 1. Patrick Leiggi and Peter May eds. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Goodwin, Mark B. and Dan S. Chaney. 1994. Molding and casting: techniques and materials. Vertebrate paleontological techniques Volume 1. Patrick Leiggi and Peter May eds. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Howie, Francis M.P. 1984. “Materials used for conserving fossil specimens since 1930: a review”, Adhesives and consolidants: preprints of the contributions to the Paris Congress, 2-8 September 1984. pp 92-97.
May, Peter, Peter Reser and Patrick Leiggi. 1994. Macrovertebrate preparation. Vertebrate paleontological techniques Volume 1. Patrick Leiggi and Peter May eds. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, et al. Conservation of Fossil, Mineral, and Rock Collections. The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Professional Development Workshop 2005 October 17-18 Mesa, Arizona. Prepared and presented by Robert Waller, Gerald Fitzgerald, Chris Collins. p. 5.