Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Field Museum (Part 2 of 4): Behind the Scenes in the Collections Room!

My friend Dave Monroe introduced me to Paul Mayer, the Fossil Invertebrate Collections Manager at the Field Museum. Paul gave me a tour of the invertebrate fossils behind the scenes. The room was full of cabinets and drawers with around two million fossils in all. 

These drawers are full of Lecthaylus gregarius, which is a Silurian worm that could be a priapulid.

Lecthaylus gregarius

Paul showed me a huge slab of rock which was covered in Canadaspis perfecta fossils, some with the tail preserved.

This is a single fossil of Canadaspis perfecta, preserving only the headshield, or carapace.

This is a huge slab of rock containing fossils of the Burgess Shale enigmatic animal, Pollingeria. The Field Museum had Burgess Shale fossils which I had never actually seen except in pictures or behind glass. Some of these Burgess Shale fossils were found by Charles Doolittle Walcott, who gave them to the Field Museum. I got to touch some of the fossils, which was really cool.

This is a very rare fossil of just the eyebar of Tullimonstrum gregarium. Tullimonstrom was found in the Mazon Creek in Illinois, and the Field Museum has the biggest collection of Mazon Creek fossils in the world. The Field Museum has the type specimens of Tullimonstrum in the collections room, and the Holotype was on display. These were so rare that I couldn't touch them. But Paul showed them to me.

This is a very rare example of a Tullimonstrum with the proboscis complete. It also has the eyebar intact, and part of the body. This fossil of Tullimonstrum was amazing.

Paul said this was his favorite Tullimonstrum. It was curving its long proboscis, and showed that Tullimonstrum was probably very flexible and did not have a shell.

My mom thinks the note on this drawer is funny, but I don't.

This slab of rock contains Uintacrinus, a Cretaceous crinoid from Kansas that did not have a stalk. Instead, they floated about in mid-water, usually in huge colonies like this one. 

These are multiple fossils of holothurians, or sea cucumbers. They were found in the Mazon Creek and were from the Carboniferous Period. They differ little from the sea cucumbers alive today. 

A whole drawer of Arthropleura fossils! Some of these are what looks to me like the mandibles, and the others were of the plates on Arthropleura's sides. All the Arthropleura fossils in this drawer were of Arthropleura cristata. 

In this picture I'm holding a fossil of the side plate of Arthropleura. I thought it was really cool to hold a real Arthropleura fossil. 

Another view of the Arthropleura fossil. 

Paul was really nice, and he showed me what were probably the weirdest fossils I've ever seen.

I really didn't want to go to sleep because there were so many cool fossils on display. It was cool to go behind the scenes and to see the displays in the Field Museum. 

Next up:

Part 3: Celebrating my birthday with...a second day at the Field Museum!

A million thanks to: Paul Mayer, Jane Hanna, University of Chicago Secular Student Alliance, Stephen & Kayla & Greta, Casey, Mike, Dave Monroe, PZ Myers, and the 72 incredible people who pitched in to help fund our trip to the Field Museum. 


  1. Wow, I have to say, I am so jealous that you got to do all the things you are showing us in your blog here. I would love to be able to crawl around in all those drawers looking at all those fossils! This coming from a 51 year old!

    1. We were very lucky in that we knew somebody (Dave) who knew somebody (Paul)--otherwise I don't think Art would have been able to go behind the scenes this way. Paul generously gave up his Friday night to give Art this tour.

      A lot of credit also goes to the Field Museum for being a pretty chilled-out place. The overnight stay was nothing like I expected. The kids (I think there were about 600 people in the museum for the night) were allowed to roam around freely (with adults present, of course) and enjoy the museum. I was expecting everything to be much more corralled. They turned the lights out in Evolving Planet at 10:30 pm to allow for a self-guided "flashlight tour" (!), so not only did they let us wander around, they let us wander around in the dark. It was great to see the kids rise to the occasion given all this freedom.

      The Field Museum should have a special program like this for grownups. Like City Slickers, except with fossil inspecting instead of cattle driving.

  2. Cool! Arthropleura!

    Ah, this reminds me of when I got to take a look behind the scenes at the Museum of Natural History in Brussels. We mainly looked at fossil mammals (seriously, I have never seen so many woolly rhino skulls in one place), some sharks and a couple of dinosaurs. That was one of the most awesome things I ever did as a kid.

  3. So jealous! All those drawers. Not sure they'd ever get me out of there.
    I was lucky enough to get behind the scenes at another museum (thanks to that same Dave) and into the jar and bug rooms there.