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IU Paleontology Collection to celebrate re-opening with a public open house

Apr. 20, 2016

After 110 years in operation, the IU Paleontology Collection will celebrate its reorganization and re-opening with a public open house April 30, featuring fossil specimens from Indiana and North America.

david polly

David Polly, a professor of geological sciences and curator of the IU Paleontological Collection, helped reorganize and inventory more than one million specimens in the university's possesion. | Photo By eric rudd, iu communications

Founded in 1903 by IU geologist E.R. Cumings, the IU Paleontology Collection contains roughly 1.3 million fossils, documenting life on Earth for the past 520 million years. After professors and students conduct research on fossil specimens, the specimens are deposited in the collection for future research and to facilitate the peer review process.

A full- time curator managed the collection until the 1990s. After the lag in attention, professors and others spent the past five years reorganizing and renovating the collection.

"The fossil material itself was stored in a historical ad hoc way that no one understood anymore," said David Polly, professor of geological sciences and curator of the IU Paleontological Collection. "We reorganized and inventoried it."

But Polly could not anticipate what a large job the reorganization would become.

"When we started, we thought we had 200,000 specimens," Polly said. "Our best estimate now is 1.3 million. But it’s entirely possible that it is three or even four times that amount."

Now the collection is housed on the fifth floor of the geology building. Renovations included removing walls, opening the space for a collaborative display, improving the security system and installing climate control for long-term storage of the fossils.

The College of Arts and Sciences funded the physical renovation, and National Science Foundation grants supported the organizational and archival revamping efforts.

Polly and the other curators arranged the specimens by geological time for a streamlined viewing experience and digitized the collection to improve research accessibility.

The open house will feature Indiana’s well-known crinoids, which lived in the ocean. Crinoids are closely related to sea stars but look more like a flower.

"The strengths of the exhibit logically are from Indiana fossils and North America in general," Polly said. "Most people have probably seen crinoids while walking around Lake Monroe."

The keynote speaker, Bill Ausich, is a senior paleontologist at the Ohio State University and is a world expert on crinoids. He completed his Ph.D. at Indiana University. His dissertation is based on specimens featured in the collection. His lecture will highlight past crinoid research and how that research relates to IU’s collection.

The open house combines exhibits from the paleontology, biology and anthropology departments and is free and open to the public. Undergraduate and graduate classes, paleontology researchers, people with technical interests and members of the public, including children, are invited to attend. Events include:

  • Welcome address, 1 to 1:45 p.m. in the Geology Building.
  • Tours of Research Collections, 2 to 4:30 p.m. IU Paleontology Collection, Geology Department of Geology, fifth floor of Geology Building; IU Herbarium, Biology Department of Biology, Room 130 Smith Research Center, 2805 E. 10th Street.; and William R. Adams Zooarchaeology Collection, Anthropology Department of Anthropology, 025 Student Building.
  • Current Research Showcase, 4:30 to 5:15 p.m. in the Geology Building. Refreshments provided.
  • Keynote address by Ausich, 5:15 p.m. in the Geology Building.

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