Monday, April 13, 2015

Behind the Paleo Window: Fossil Prep with the Kids at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis

The kids and I volunteer in the fossil prep lab of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis about once a month. It's one of the perks of having gone on their Family Dino Dig, and it remains a much loved and much appreciated experience. Here's what it looks like:

We wear Paleo Prep Lab coats, and sit on stools at the big work table. There are gooseneck lights to help us see, and we work with x-acto knives, paintbrushes, and Paleobond. In the background you can see a large legbone fossil with a window behind it; that's the Paleo Window that faces the exhibit hall, and families can come up to that open window to speak to the paleontologist working there and ask questions, one of which often is, "What are those kids doing back there?"

This is an edmontosaurus rib fragment, in fine shape, that I've cleaned and am about to polish. I am always struck, when here, of the huge honor that it is to be able to do this work and handle these objects. 

Will scrapes surrounding dirt off of a fossil. The paleontologists here are wonderful in their trust of children's capabilities; they show the children what to do and then let them get on with it. I'm impressed, as well, that they also don't accept careless work. Scraping off all that debris isn't always fun, but if a kid brings over a fossil to be inspected and it isn't completely clean, she's shown what else needs to be done and sent back to work. 
Look at the detail in this fossil!

The fossils have been carefully field prepped on site, either field jacketed in plaster or wrapped in paper towels and then foil and taped up and put in a plastic container. Each fossil is photographed on site, and mapped, and there's a form filled out with that info, as well as what it's suspected to be, and who discovered it and who all has worked on it. I wonder who discovered this particular fossil?
That's who! How cool is that?!?

I love how seriously the kids take their work, and how focused they are. 

This is Syd making her Very Important Scientist face.

Not all the fossils are great, of course. This one is totally borked. The amateur Paleobond mess isn't doing it any favors, but it's so fragmented that it really doesn't matter. I cleaned it off a bit, but fossils in this kind of shape are generally just donated to the local schools. My kids are so desensitized by their familiarity with really great fossils that I actually had to explain to them how cool the teachers and kids would find this particular specimen. 
This one's another school donation. I'd have had to jackhammer off all that dirt Paleobonded to it there at the far end. This is why they don't let amateurs work with the really fancy fossils!
This is really cool. It's an air abrader machine, and it's used to polish the fossils once they're clean. That little wand blasts out baking soda; you aim it not directly at the fossil, but across it, so that the baking soda can gently smooth the surface and make it shine.

Both kids know how to use it, and it's pretty much our favorite toy in the lab.

We generally stay in the lab for about an hour and a half, which is enough time to completely prepare a small fossil in decent shape, or get some real progress made on a larger piece or one that needs more work. After that, it's back into the museum to play some more, and where do you think the kids always want to go first?

Paleontology exhibit. Of course. 

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