Friday, July 30, 2010

The importance of localities

Fossils have little scientific meaning if they arrive in a collection with no information. Identifications can be made at any point in time. Photographs can be taken, accession lots can be assigned. If no locality information has been gathered or retained, then the fossil is often nothing more than a pretty specimen. If there are any fossil collectors out there reading this, I beg you - please note where your specimen is from stratigraphically and geographically. Even if you are not sure of the exact unit, note the lithology. Is the rock grey, black or brown? Is it hard like a limestone or does it break apart more easily like a shale? Where in the world is your rock from? A city or town is a good place to start, but try to be more specific. If you have a GPS unit, use it (but be sure to note the datum and uncertainty contained within your unit). If you don't have a GPS unit, don't despair! Try marking out your fossil locality on a USGS 7.5" topographic map. You can download them here. Using businesses as landmarks can get complicated because businesses come and go. If you want to use buildings as landmarks, use buildings that will be around for some time (and will be plotted on maps) like the courthouse or town hall. Note when the specimens were collected as well. Town hall may be in a different place fifty years from now, but if the specimen was collected on a known date, the location of the town hall at that time can be determined.
Having delivered my collecting tips for the week, I leave you with some photos of specimens with some (although definitely not the best) locality information.


  1. I've always tried to explain to our students a specimen without a label is like finding a puzzle piece behind the couch. You can tell *what* it is, maybe even what it belongs too. But with out that locality, year and so on, you can't know with much certainty how this piece fits into a larger picture!!!

  2. That is so true, Angie! Maybe if we keep telling them, they'll finally get it! I think all scientists/students who collect for museums should have to work in one for at least a bit. It's the only way to really gain an appreciation of how important this information is.

  3. I use a simple locality number followed by an acquisition number and record that in my notebook... acquisition # in the front of the book and locality in the back. In the days before the internet and gps, in my locality description, I would include the distance N and W along the edge of the GQ on which the site was located, ie., 45mmN; 85mmW.

    It seems antiquated now, but 100 years from now one could look at the notebook and get the precise location of the formation- even if it has been destroyed.