The Cincinnati Museum Center recently received 200 new fossils as part of an expanded partnership with Elevation Science Institute. The collaboration with the Montana-based nonprofit is a way for CMC to grow its extensive vertebrate paleontology collection and further its ongoing field work.
Founded in 2017, Elevation Science leads public paleontology expeditions in the Western part of the United States, including several field sites worked by CMC paleontologists between 2000 and 2012. Those are the sites where CMC teams excavated a diplodocus bonebed and an array of Jurassic-age dinosaur fossils, including the 50-foot-long galeamopus skeleton that greets guests at the entrance to Dinosaur Hall at Union Terminal. Those fossils were found on public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management.
The Cincinnati Museum Cincinnati is the official repository for all of the fossils collected by Elevation Science.
Dr. Glenn Storrs, CMC’s curator of vertebrate paleontology, described the partnership as allowing the institute’s staff to prepare the fossils for study in its state-of-the-art paleontology lab. The process will also assist CMC staff with training its volunteers.
“At the same time, Elevation Science is able to fulfill their obligation to see that the fossils are properly curated at Cincinnati Museum Center,” he added. “It’s a win-win for all.”
Collaboration gives museum guests front-row seat
Through its partnership with CMC, Elevation Science will lead and manage the active digs for fossilized remains for dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.
Once fossils are received in Cincinnati, Katie Hunt – Elevation Science’s paleontology lab manager – will work alongside CMC curators and volunteers to prepare them for further research and display in the Museum of Natural History and Science.
Fossils come wrapped in their toilet paper, burlap and plaster field jackets. That was the case for the fossils most recently received at CMC’s Paleo Lab.
In the lab, researchers will carefully cut open the field jacket – think of it as removing a cast on a broken arm – to expose a fossil still embedded in rock. Over days, weeks, even months, the rock is meticulously chipped and chiseled to free the fossil.
Museum guests get a front row seat to this paleontological process through a large viewing window where they can see the lab in action.
But Jason Schein, Elevation Science’s founding executive director, invited citizen-scientists to take that process one step further by joining its paleontologists at active research sites.
“To date, we’ve had over 500 participants help us excavate dinosaurs at Dr. Storrs’s former field sites, so we couldn’t be happier about partnering with him and Cincinnati Museum Center to prepare and house these amazing specimens. It’s a wonderful paleontology reunion of sorts,” he said.
A legacy of paleontological discovery
Over the years, CMC has developed one of the largest fossil collections in the United States. Paleontologists and researchers visit the museum every year to access the more than 30,000 fossils in its vertebrate paleontology collection.
Paleontological research has led to revolutionary theories on extinction, evolution and climate change, according to CMC.
Just miles away from Union Terminal is Big Bone Lick in Boone County, Ky. The state historic site is known as the birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology because mastodon bones were first discovered there in 1739. It was also home to the first American paleontological excavation led by William Clark in 1807 on the orders of President Thomas Jefferson.
To mark the city’s legacy in the field, Cincinnati hosted more than 1,100 paleontologists from around the world as part of the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting.
Elizabeth Pierce, president and CEO of the CMC, described the partnership with Elevation Science as an “an incredible opportunity for our local community and the larger scientific community.”
“(T)his continues our work to unearth the prehistoric past at these sites and to expand our collections for further research to see what secrets these fossils may yet unlock,” she added.