June 2, 2010

On Cleaning an Ancient Fish

The word “fossil” often conjures images of Tyrannosaurus rex skulls, mammoth femurs, or other large bones. But those aren’t the only ones that survive through the millennia, and certainly aren’t the only ones that have importance.

One of Sarah's specimens, Semionotus sp. found in Utah, 200-210 million years old.

KU Biodiversity Institute graduate students Sarah Spears and Kathryn Mickle study prehistoric fishes. Their fossils are so small that, in order to get them ready for study, Sarah and Kathryn have to use tiny tools to remove excess rock. Sometimes, even metal tools are too rough and inexact, so they switch over to porcupine quills – just sharp and flexible enough to clean tiny fish bones.

Cleaning a specimen.
Porcupine quills at the lab.


Cleaning of Ancient Fish

Hello: My name is Neil Menard. I was wondering if anyone at your museum ever looked into using a laser to do the cleaning of these ancient fish bones? If so, was the effort successful? Thankyou very much! Neil


Hello Neil, In regard to your question, we have not used laser technology to clean these fish bones. I am not familiar with this technique and I fear that the Biodiversity Institute currently lacks the kind of equipment necessary to do that kind of prep. Other preparation techniques, beside manual removal with needles, is to use mild acids to dissolve surrounding rock and leave the bones perfectly exposed. This technique, however, is contingent upon the minerals found within the bone itself: we wouldn't want the bone to dissolve away as well!! Thanks for your interest!

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Lab Notes is a Biodiversity Institute blog that gets into what's happening on the ground inside and outside of the laboratory. We're interested in process -- how science works.

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