Giving fossils a facelift A broken, fossil tyrannosaurid dinosaur tooth found on the ground in the Judith River Formation in Montana. (Lower, left) Fossil Preparator Michelle Pinsdorf extracting a fossil from a protective plaster jacket. . (Michelle Pinsdorf/NMNH-2016-00532, Smithsonian)
Giving fossils a facelift
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If you think about it, a fossil has not shown its best face in a long time, maybe ever. It has spent millions of years embedded in rock, ice, tar or amber. It is a fossil preparator's job to remove a fossil from the surrounding materials to reveal it for study and display. The difficulty of the preparation depends not only on what the fossilized organism is, but also how it has changed over time.
 
We think of fossils as animals or plants that have mineralized (changed to rock). But, that is only part of the story. Fossils are defined as any traces of life 10,000 years old or older. A fossil can be as subtle as a footprint. Or it can be as substantial as a skeleton. Whether it mineralizes or not depends on the conditions it experiences. And how long it experiences those conditions. Living material buried in ocean sediment might get totally replaced with minerals. Living material in a peat bog might survive for thousands of years nearly unchanged.
 
A fossil preparator's work often begins in the field. It starts with the extraction of a fossil from the landscape where it is discovered. Along with the fossil comes a lump of surrounding material. It is left on as protection for packaging and transport to a fossil preparation lab. There, a fossil preparator uses an array of specialized tools to remove the material around the fossil. Depending on the matrix, tools may range from soft brushes to metal dental picks. In addition, even air-powered, needle-tipped jackhammers are sometimes used.
 
But not all fossil organisms are created equal. Usually the hard parts of an organism, such as bones, shells or stems, have fossilized. The soft parts decay or are eaten away. A fossil preparator must piece together fossilized bits of the organism like a puzzle. The preparator restores missing parts using information from other sources about what they should look like. This makes a preparator part scientist, part detective, part artist and part engineer.
 
Preparator Michelle Pinsdorf prepares fossils for display and research. She works at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
 
Learn more about her job, and how volunteers play a role, in this "Smithsonian Science How" webcast. During Inside the Smithsonian's Fossil Prep Lab, Michelle takes you on a tour of the Fossil Prep Lab while answering questions.

You can get teaching resources to use with the webcast.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why does a fossil preparator’s work not end in the field?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (21)
  • kemblya-
    3/01/2017 - 08:39 a.m.

    It doesn't end because they have to do different parts of the fossil.

  • jorgeg-goa
    3/01/2017 - 09:33 a.m.

    A fossils preparatory work does not end in the field because they keep on wanting to see if there are even more fossils where they discovered there recent one. In the article "Giving fossils a facelift " it said that the preparator restores missing parts using information from other sources about what they should look like. This makes a preparator part scientist, part detective, part artist and part engineer.That is why the fossils perparator work doesn't end in the field.

  • josem-goa
    3/01/2017 - 09:33 a.m.

    Fossil preparator’s work does not end because there are a lot of steps to do in that feild.According to the article,Giving fossils a facelift,it states,"A fossil preparator's work often begins in the field. It starts with the extraction of a fossil from the landscape where it is discovered. Along with the fossil comes a lump of surrounding material. It is left on as protection for packaging and transport to a fossil preparation lab. There, a fossil preparator uses an array of specialized tools to remove the material around the fossil. Depending on the matrix, tools may range from soft brushes to metal dental picks. In addition, even air-powered, needle-tipped jackhammers are sometimes used." That's why fossil preparators work does not end.

  • rosar-goa
    3/01/2017 - 09:34 a.m.

    A fossil preparator's work does not end in the field because the preparator restores missing parts using information from other sources about what they should look like. So basically they don't only work in the field but in many other ways. For example, this makes a preparator part scientist, part detective, part artist and part engineer. That proves that they not only work in the field. According to paragraph 4, "A fossil preparator must piece together fossilized bits of the organism like a puzzle. The preparator restores missing parts using information from other sources about what they should look like. This makes a preparator part scientist, part detective, part artist and part engineer. This bit of information helped me think and reveal my answer.

  • joanat-goa
    3/01/2017 - 09:36 a.m.

    A fossil preparator's work dose not end in the field because A fossil preparator must piece together fossilized bits of the organism like a puzzle so that will be diffcult for them.The preparator restores missing parts using information from other sources about what they should look very alike to each other.According to the passage "Giving fossil a facelit" it says that they found the organisms like a puzzle.

  • emilyr-goa
    3/01/2017 - 09:45 a.m.

    A fossil preparator's work dose not end in the field because the fossil preparator want to spend more time looking for fossils and the fields are big so it will take time.According to the article "fossils a facelift",stated that a fossil preparator's work often begins in the field.It starts with the extraction of a fossil from the landscape where it is discovered.Along with the fossil comes a lump of surrounding material.It is left on as protection for packaging and transport to a fossil preparation lab.

  • diannaf-goa
    3/01/2017 - 09:45 a.m.

    A fossil prepartor's work does not end in the field because not all fossil organisms are created equally .The hard parts of an organisms like bones,shells or stems,have fossilized.A fossil prepartor must piece together fossilized bits of the organism like a puzzle.According to the article "Giving fossils a facelift" it says a fossil work 'often' begins in the field.

  • nataliah-goa
    3/01/2017 - 10:18 a.m.

    A fossil preparator’s work not end in the field because there are a lot of fossil in the field.According to the artcal"A fossil preparator's work often begins in the field. It starts with the extraction of a fossil from the landscape where it is discovered. Along with the fossil comes a lump of surrounding material.So now you now why does a fossil preparator’s work not end in the field.



  • lizethb-goa
    3/01/2017 - 10:20 a.m.

    a fossil preparator’s work does not end in the field because it will fall or it will mess up. According to the text "Giving fossils a facelift" it said "But not all fossil organisms are created equal. Usually the hard parts of an organism, such as bones, shells or stems, have fossilized." This is why i chose this answer.

  • leslieb-goa
    3/01/2017 - 10:30 a.m.

    a fossil Preparator's work not end in the field?Because a fossil preparator must piece together fossilized bits of the organism like a puzzle. The preparator restores missing parts using information from other sources about what they should look like.According to the text in paragraph 4 in line 3 that's were i found my answer.This is based on why or why not preparator's work not end in the field.

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