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Subject: Fossils


From: Sally Shelton <libsdnhm>
Date: Friday, August 16, 1996
Re the message on standards for fossil care/conservation:

There is no international standard set for the care and conservation
of fossils per se. There are some guidelines in the form of
curricula developed for training in geological conservation. The
best of these was developed for the post-graduate diploma course
organized at Cambridge in 1993. Sections of this course are being
offered through programs I have developed for International Academic
Projects of London. Gerry Fitzgerald also wrote guidelines for the
documentation of geological material, which was published in
Collection Forum, the journal of the Society for the Preservation of
Natural History Collections.

Part of the problem is that fossils, and natural history specimens
in general, do not automatically fall under the protection of the
UNESCO Treaty. A great deal depends on the enabling legislation
passed by each individual country. In the U.S., for example, natural
history specimens are not included in the wording of the enabling
legislation, though they are included in the wording of the treaty.

Another part of the problem is that there are so very many fossil
specimens, and so very many modes of preservation. The guidelines
that I use for care of fossils in the geological conservation course
sequence I teach are general, and you would not find much in them
that differs for the general guidelines for care of any other
materials. In a single paleontological collection, for example, you
may find materials as diverse as unaltered organic material, bone,
shell, amber, and a very wide range of rock, mineral and sediment
materials. There are trace fossils, which are impressions left by a
living organism, which includes tracks. There is the problem of
conserving fossils in situ (cf. Dinosaur National Monument).

The guidelines published by SPNHC are a good place to start in
developing in-house standards that conform to generally accepted
international guidelines. However, be aware that destructive testing
is not only more acceptable in natural history collections than it
is in humanities collections; it is de rigueur for several types of
studies. Natural history conservation guidelines generally take this
need into account, though they do demand that such testing be
justified, and that specimens of primary importance be restricted
from such use. Simply taking the guidelines for an archaeology
collection and applying them to a paleontology collection won't

Please contact me off-list for further information. Cheers,

Sally Shelton
Director, Collections Care and Conservation
San Diego Natural History Museum
P.O. Box 1390
San Diego, California  92112
Fax: 619-232-0248

                  Conservation DistList Instance 10:20
                 Distributed: Tuesday, August 20, 1996
                       Message Id: cdl-10-20-004
Received on Friday, 16 August, 1996

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