Why should we care about fossil leaves?

Fossil leaves from the Florissant fossil beds in Colorado (~ 34 Million years old).

Fossils of dinosaurs, trilobites, and wooly mammoths typically attract more public attention than fossil plants. Although they are not as eye-catching to most people, fossil plants are far more important than this lack of  interest suggests. They help reconstruct the morphology and evolution of long-extinct plant species (which are at the base of food chains, and thus affect whole ecosystems), and they are also among the most important sources of information for scientists trying to understand Earth’s past (paleo-) climates and environments. In recent decades, a growing interest in paleoclimate has accompanied the growing concern about climate change. In addition to documenting past climate change, paleoclimate data play an important role in testing climate models used for predicting future patterns of climate change.[1]

What makes plants such great indicators of former climate? Most plants are sessile, so they are dependent on the climatic conditions of their location. Like all organisms, plants have been forced to adapt to their surroundings to survive, and these adaptations may be recorded in their fossilized remains. Therefore, careful interpretation of a fossil plant provides clues as to in which terrestrial conditions that plant lived. Fossilized leaves are especially good at recording past climatic conditions. Because leaves are the primary photosynthetic organs of a plant, they are optimally adapted to environmental conditions and can react sensitively to environmental changes. Several methods have been developed to use the characteristics of fossil leaves to reconstruct paleoclimate.

Leaf size and shape

Illustration by Melissa McKee.

In most regions of the world, the proportion of woody, dicotyledon (or dicot) tree species with leaf teeth (serrated edges on the leaf margins), is inversely correlated with mean annual temperature. In addition, leaves from plants growing in cold climates are more likely to have larger and more numerous leaf teeth. Since leaf teeth can be observed and measured in leaf fossils, scientists have developed models to quantitatively reconstruct terrestrial paleotemperature from leaf teeth in fossils.[2] Models have also been developed to reconstruct other paleoclimate variables from the size and shape of fossilized leaves. For example, scientists can use the size of fossil leaves to infer past levels of precipitation, because larger leaves tend to be more prevalent in wetter climates.[3]

 Leaf cuticle

Another way to infer paleoclimate is by looking at the characteristics of the cuticle—the waxy, protective surface layer on the leaves of higher plants—of fossilized leaves. Scientists can look at the abundance of trichomes (leaf hairs) on the fossilized cuticle to infer water availability, because trichome density is often higher in plant species adapted to arid environments.[4]

Fossil leaf cuticle with visible stomata.

Stomata are small pores on plant surfaces surrounded by a pair of specialized guard cells that control gas exchange between the plant and atmosphere, influencing both photosynthesis and transpiration in the plant. Stomata on the cuticle of fossil leaves can be used to estimate atmospheric CO2 concentrations in Earth’s past. This is especially useful to scientists because there are no direct measurements of CO2 prior to the oldest ice cores, in which air bubbles are preserved (~1.5 million years old).[5] On the other hand, stomata have been around since about 400 million years ago[6] and, with some rare exceptions, found in all terrestrial plant groups. Plants change the number and/or size of stomata to optimize carbon uptake for photosynthesis, while simultaneously minimizing water loss.[7] Stomatal density (the number of stomata per unit area) and stomatal index (the percentage of epidermal cells that are stomata) are negatively correlated with atmospheric CO2 concentrations in many living plants; therefore, changes of stomatal density and stomatal index in fossil leaves are considered to represent changes of CO2 concentrations in the geological past.[8] Scientists have developed models to use the stomatal density or stomatal index of fossilized leaves to estimate the CO2 concentration of Earth’s atmospheric when that plant was alive.

Nearest Living Relative

The Joe Webb Peoples museum has hundreds of fossil leaves from the Florissant fossil beds in Colorado .

Another way to use fossil plants to infer paleoclimate is to identify the nearest living relative of that fossil, of which the current climatic tolerances are used to infer past climate. For example, by analyzing fossilized plants from the Florissant fossil beds in Colorado (about 34 million years old), it was found that the fossilized plants most resemble modern deciduous forests of the eastern United States and the humid subtropical forests of central and northeastern Mexico.[9] In addition, the discovery of fossilized palm leaves as well as an analysis of fossil pollen and spores support that it was once a warm, relatively frost-free temperate climate[10], which is very different from Colorado’s climate today.

Illustration by Melissa McKee.


[1] MacLeod, N., and Steart, D., 2015, Automated leaf physiognomic character identification from digital images: Paleobiology, v. 41, no. 4, p. 528‐553.

[2] Royer, D. L., McElwain, J. C., Adams, J. M., and Wilf, P., 2008, Sensitivity of leaf size and shape to climate within Acer rubrum and Quercus kelloggii: New Phytologist, v. 179, p. 808‐817.

[3] Wilf, P., Wing, S. L., Greenwood, D. R., and Greenwood, C. L., 1998, Using fossil leaves as paleoprecipitation indicators: an Eocene example: Geology, v. 26, p. 203-206.

[4] Parrish, J. T., Daniel, I. L., Kennedy, E. M., and Spicer, R. A., 1998, Paleoclimatic significance of mid-Cretaceous floras from the middle Clarence Valley, New Zealand: Palaios, v. 13, p. 149-159.

[5] Fischer, H., Severinghaus, J., Brook, E., Wolff, E., Albert, M., Alemany, O., Arthern, R., Bentley, C., Blankenship, D., and Chappellaz, J., 2013, Where to find 1.5 million yr old ice for the IPICS” Oldest-Ice” ice core: Climate of the Past, v. 9, p. 2489-2505.

[6] Raven, J. A., 2002, Selection pressures on stomatal evolution: New Phytologist, v. 153, p. 371-386.

[7] Cowan, I. R., and Farquhar, G. D., 1977, Stomatal function in relation to leaf metabolism and environment, in Jennings, D. H., ed., Integration of Activity in the Higher Plant. Symposia of the Society for Experimental Biology: Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 471-505.

[8] Beerling, D. J., and Royer, D. L., 2002, Fossil plants as indicators of the Phanerozoic global carbon cycle: Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences, v. 30, p. 527-556.

[9] Boyle, B., Meyer, H. W., Enquist, B., and Salas, S., 2008, Higher taxa as paleoecological and paleoclimatic indicators: A search for the modern analog of the Florissant fossil flora: Geological Society of America Special Papers, v. 435, p. 33-51.

[10] Leopold, E.B. and Clay-Poole, S.T., 2001, Fossil leaf and pollen floras of Colorado compared: climatic implications. In Evanoff, E., Gregory-Wodzicki K.M. and Johnson, K.R. [Eds.] Fossil Flora and Stratigraphy of the Florissant Formation, Colorado: Proceedings of the Denver -Museum of Nature and Science, v. 4, p. 17-55.

Unseen Wesleyan Part 3: The Tunnels of Wesleyan

There is always something mystical about going underground. Since antiquity, people have always pondered the possibility of a subterranean realm – a sort of magical or hellish place right beneath our feet. In all world’s civilizations and religions, from the Greek Underworld to the Christian Hell, people have been fascinated the world’s underground. In the ancient Indian epic Ramayana – a literature this blogger read since childhood – there were verses on the many underworlds, which can range from a literal hell to prosperous kingdoms. This obsession with the esoteric subterranean civilization continues to these days, with a sub-genre of pop culture devoted to this topic. For instance, the 2008 film Journey to the Center of the Earth ostensibly captures our lasting obsession with the underworld. It is thus not surprising that some of the tunnels beneath Wesleyan, that is the tunnel systems beneath Foss Hill and Butterfield College, would generate a great deal of interest among the Wesleyan student body. While the tunnels could be freely accessed in the past, they have been sealed off for decades, and the mystique of the tunnels captures all students imagination ever since.

Something sinister is lurking behind that door

There were many rumors on the tunnels of the Butts and Foss Hill; one story posited that two unhappy roommates moved all of their belongings to an alcove in the Butts’ tunnel, never to return. However, another rumor caught this blogger’s attention: that there may be fossil specimens within the tunnels. As a part of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum Project, a natural history museum on the 4th floor of Exley, this rumor intrigued us and got us ready for another round of expedition. In truth, that rumor was rooted in facts, as our resident technical expert, Mr. Joel Labella, visited some of the tunnels in the past, and transported some dinosaur footprints from the tunnel to the specimen storage area many years ago. However, we were informed that there might still be fossils left behind. Thus, as is the tradition with this blogger, we went down underground to look for these for the potentially lost fossils.

Making our way across the campus from Exley to WestCo
Getting inside

Our day started underneath the morning sun of Connecticut summer. The expedition team was checking the necessary gear for venturing into the forbidden tunnels: this included a crowbar, reliable flashlights, and a good camera for the possible emergency selfie situation. We met with our expedition expert, Jeff Sweet (facilities management) in front of a locked gate near WesShop, seemingly a harmless yet mysterious steel door. True to his credentials as tunnel terrains expert, our expert was able to produce the coveted key, allowing us to get inside the Foss Hill tunnel system. Once inside, we were greeted by with a copious amount of graffiti. Running from the ceiling to the floor, every inch of the surface area in the entrance area and tunnel was full of various murals, graffiti, and general messages, probably put in place by generations of earlier Wesleyan students. Due to our preparation and the presence of our guide, we were able to activate the light system inside the tunnel. Nevertheless, the art from the bygone eras gave us a sense of unease underlying our expedition.

The Entrance into the Abyss
When you stare into the abyss…
Wise words from generations past
An anthropological evidence of the anti-culture sentiment among the Wesleyan students; apparently, our weirdness is rooted in the past








A way forward?

Walking deeper inside the Foss Hill tunnels, we could instinctively feel the byzantine and often claustrophobic nature of the tunnel. While spacious enough for two people to walk side-by-side, the oppressive concrete wall with many disturbing illustrations kept us a little on edge. Furthermore, certain sections of the tunnels were partially flooded, creating a picture of an enclosed and haunted tomb. As we moved onward, we were pressured to keep our eyes open for any little pieces of possible fossils, even with the ominous uneasiness. The many shadowy rooms opening off the tunnels were sometimes full of abandoned furniture and sometimes creepily empty; some were filled with an unnaturally large number of sofas, while others were left with bare concrete wall and dust-caked floor. Then, we arrived at a large room at the end of the tunnel.

Something does not feel right
How did you escape?

The first thing that caught our eyes were a giant wooden pallet box, off to the right in the room. The condition of the box, while familiar to our experienced expedition team after our trip to the penthouse, was barely recognizable with our dim lights. Curiously, graffiti inscribed on the wall right above the box told us something crucial: “Clobbersaurus was here.” After being alerted of that fact, our expedition team began scrutinizing the box more closely. We discovered what appears to be the plaster cast of a giant shell part of the Glyptodon, whose tail we had found in the Penthouse of Exley, chronicled in our first part of Unseen Wesleyan. It was quite surprising and delightful to find another large part of the same replica thought to be lost from the records. That posed an interesting question whether more parts of the Glyptodon replica – the feet and the head to be exact –would still be stored somewhere on campus.
In addition to this gratifying and surprising discovery, we found two massive steel cabinets with partially broken locks. What drew our curiosity to these two archaic containers is the Ammonite-looking mural drawn near the vicinity: its existence told us that our treasure might lie inside the locked drawers. We looked over the cabinets and noted they had been fire-proof cabinets, thus possibly contained asbestos so that we could not seriously use the crowbar. This prompted our technician specialist, Mr. Joel Labella, to promise a return to the room for a more “powerful” retrieval method, to check whether museum-related paper documents might have been stored in these cabinets. We saw our discovery of the Glyptodon carapace as an early success of our expedition into the tunnels.

The big room at the end of Foss Hill tunnel
The graffiti “Clobbersaurus was here” tipped us off
A wooden pallet box of a thought-to-be-lost Glyptodon‘s shell replica
Another angle of the Glyptodon replica
The locked cabinets which could not be opened










Exiting the Foss Hill tunnel, we set our eyes on the next target: the Butts’ tunnels. We navigated our team up the slope of the Butts into the Butthole – a silly nickname of the Butterfield College’s courtyard. Without much fanfare, we descended down the Butts C stairs into the hauntingly-lit tunnel entrance. This time, the corridor of the tunnels was much more unwelcoming, with narrow passageways and ever-present swarms of graffiti decorating the wall. Truthfully, the bright light lining the tunnels accentuated the creepy details along the route: the blinding lights cemented a sense of discomfort by highlighting every strange detail inside the tunnel, from the creepily written plea for an escape to artworks of bloody heads. The presence of locked doors dotted along the path almost plunged our expedition into paranoia, with the thoughts of someone or something being inside edging our minds. “A weak mind does not belong to this place,” the tunnels seemed to scream.

Our expedition team getting inside the Butterfield’s tunnels
Walking along the hallowed tunnel
A cry for help?

After walking a long while down the lengthy and convoluted corridors, we stumbled upon an orange-tinged room with loose wires and open stacks of servers. Whereas the jumbled mess of the deserted electrical equipment might have intrigued others, we were more fascinated by the pile of rocks, steel drawers, and a lonely steel cabinet sitting at the other far side of the room. Fascinated, we went in to investigate. It appeared to be the collections of geological specimens from Wesleyan’s own Professor of Geology, Wilbur G. Foy, professor of Geology from 1924 to 1935. Together with Professor William North Rice, he studied the geology of Connecticut. The specimens were his numbered samples indexed to the geological map of Connecticut, with various sediments and minerals comprising the drawers and the pile. Most of these historical rock specimens seemed to be discarded in disarray, which further reinforced our expedition goal to retrieve discarded specimens and collections for the museum. Wooden pallets adjacent to Foye’s geological specimen pile contained a variety of rock cores. We still do not know where or from which expedition the cores came, but they may be specimens from the core collection in the penthouse. Their quantity and even the mere existence in the tunnel suggested that there are many more treasures on campus of which we are not aware. These geological specimens, both the rocks of Connecticut and the survey cores, underscored the importance of organization and curatorship within the University’s museum; indeed, our project for the Joe Webb Peoples museum intends to provide that assistance to the Wesleyan University.

Paleontology and the Machine
An orange-tinged room with curious objects
Various geological specimens from Prof. Foy and Prof. Rice
Our expedition technician expert holding a big piece of geological specimen
Various rock cores from geological surveys

Moving on from the abandoned geological collection, we trek deeper into the abyss to search for the famed fossils underneath the Butts. The terrains we faced were certainly dangerous: we moved from corridor to corridor, room to room, crevice to crevice, and alcove to alcove. Passing countless steel gates, we walked along the narrow, copper pipes laden corridors. Taking a turn at an intersection, we again moved alongside a huge number of graffiti and locked doors. In one room, a normal-looking kitchen was vandalized by ancient arts from the legion of Wesleyan student generations. Another room was left almost untouched, saved for a makeshift table in the center of the room, giving the appearance that someone might have been here in times past. A dimly-lit bathroom, one of the many in this cavernous tunnel, gave off a tickle in the spine with its punky murals. A room we stumbled across had a set of never-played beer pong and a pile of discarded vodka bottles; bemused, we were slow to realize the weirdness of this environment: who would have set up a beer pong table in a dark tunnel, then decided not to play it? We may never know the sinister end of the players, whoever they were.

As we walked through the abyss
No turning back now

For sale: Beer pong, never played

As we plunged deeper into the tunnel in search of fossils, we came across yet darker and more unsettling rooms. One room was filled with unidentified black bags and mattresses. We were told by our expedition expert that those were left behind by the janitors of the Butts, an acceptable explanation, perhaps. Walking past a brighter section of the tunnel, we were greeted by a hallway with a dusty glass wall dividing what appeared to be an abandoned underground cafeteria. It certainly looked the part, with decapitated chairs and tables, broken soda fountain, and a puzzling box of biohazard clean-up kit. The graffiti on the wall “Get to the Bunker” and “Put the lotion in the basket,” both references to a movie concerning a nuclear apocalypse and serial killer respectively, seemed to imply the reason behind this cafeteria’s closure. Reaching the end of the tunnel, one fact became apparent to us: despite our extensive search for the fossil, we failed to find the rumored Butts’ fossils in this expedition. Except for our notes on the geological collections, we sadly returned empty-handed.

An abandoned and haunting toilet
A room of very not-suspicious-looking black plastic bags
You have to wonder, people used to eat here?
An abandoned cafeteria
Yes and no

While not all our expeditions yielded a significant number of fossils, the specimens we found were no less important to the museum and Wesleyan University. The Glyptodon replica was once a part of the historic Orange Judd Museum of Natural History, an institution of Wesleyan University since 1871. When the museum was closed in 1957, the Glyptodon, along with many valuable fossils and specimens, were thought to be lost forever; that is until now. With closer analysis, we might even discover something far more important with regards to the geological collection underneath the Butts. The pieces and collections we found are the fabric of Wesleyan itself. Thus, as a proud Wesleyan student and a lover of everything history, I cannot appreciate the Joe Webb Peoples Museum enough.

By Sajirat Palakarn

Special thanks to Mr. Jeff Sweet, Associate Director of Facilities Management, Wesleyan University, and Yonathan Gomez ’18

Unseen Wesleyan Part 2: Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

The Joe Webb People Museum at Wesleyan University has many fossils and some natural history exhibits, but it pales in comparison to the massive Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. The Peabody Museum occupies a three-story building, and has an extensive storage space for specimens in the adjacent Environmental Science building and even more at the Yale West Campus Collections Storage Center. In total, the geological-paleontological specimens at the Peabody greatly dwarf the size of Wesleyans collections, with an estimated 13 million total specimens. Therefore, the Peabody Museum is a go-to destination for learning about paleontology for people in Connecticut and beyond. According to the museum, there are  about 140,000 visitors annually, an impressive number for a natural history museum. The Peabody Museum is said to be one of the world’s most well-known museums of natural history (especially for its dinosaurs), and graduate students and faculty at Yale, as well as visiting scientists, are engaged in prolific research. Therefore, this blogger wanted to learn more about the success story of this museum, and get inspiration to replicate such success, and promote our under-appreciated Joe Webb Peoples Museum. For this issue of Unseen Wesleyan, we thus went on an expedition to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven.

Contrary to popular beliefs, Yale University – where the Peabody museum is situated – is actually in New Haven, and not in Yalesville.


Our day started early in the morning in the Exley Science Center loading dock. We packed all our gears into the red Chevy Suburban, a signature color of Wesleyan University, and sped to the highway (I-91). The morning traffic was, on this day, not as treacherous as the waters of the Amazon River, but the congestion in New Haven almost made us late for our rendezvous at Yale University. Hurrying, we started the more unusual part of this expedition in the group of three buildings: the Kline Geology Laboratory (KGL), The Environmental Science Center (ESC) where there are museum storage and study rooms, and the Yale Peabody Museum. We walked through KGL into the connected ESC, to start our behind-the-scenes tour of the Peabody Museum.


The view before we got into the ECS from a connecter from the KGL

The theme of this expedition was education, and before we started our peek in Yale’s famed museum, our faculty guide presented a talk to a group of Peabody Museum summer intern students (undergraduates and high school) on her field of research. Professor Ellen Thomas, an expert in paleo-oceanography and unicellular lifeforms, gave an introduction into general paleontology and the unicellular Foraminifera, a type of marine microorganism. She started with a discussion of taxonomy, working to debunk the oft-repeated but now outdated idea of “Five Kingdoms of Life”, going through the Domains which were popular afterwards (Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya), to end up with the (unfortunately) much more complex groupings used today, in which unicellular and multicellular Eukaryotes are combined in groupings rather than splitting Eukarya into animals, mushrooms, plants and protists. Predictably, her repudiation of the long-accepted notions of taxonomy as generally taught in high school elicited some surprised reactions from the audience. Next, Professor Thomas tackled the hard question of “What is a Foraminifer?” She covered the origins of the recognition of Foraminifera in human history, starting with a mention by Pliny the Elder (Roman Empire), first documentation in 1648 by Ulisse Aldrovandi in his work Musaeum Metallicum, and the formalization of taxonomy by Linnaeus in 1758. Professor Thomas then went on to explain the nature of Foraminifera (‘foram’ for short), extending her description from the general concept of Foraminifera as an Amoeboids with reticulose pseudopods, the shell formation types of the typical foram, to the differences between benthic (living on or in the seafloor) and planktic (floating in the water column) foraminifers. All in all, the talk was captivating in that it illuminated the not widely known subject of unicellular lifeforms in paleo-oceanography.

An illustration of various Foraminifera featured in the talk
A picture of professor Ellen Thomas – an expert in benthic Foraminifera – holding two 3-D printed models of forams
A group of Nummulites fossils – a type of large Foraminifera –  in the Joe Webb Peoples museum at Wesleyan University
Slabs of stone from an ancient Egyptian Obelisk in Alexandria with various specimens of Foraminifera, now in the Joe Webb Peoples museum’s official collection. The obelisk is now in Central Park, New York City.

After the talk, we began our primary purpose of this expedition: investigating the success of the Peabody Museum. We started off by reviewing one of the museum’s main invertebrate paleontology archives in the ESC, which had been fitted with state-of-the-art archival infrastructure. The specimens, ranging from unicellular organisms to brachiopods and giant ammonites and bivalves, are stored in new, easily accessible cabinets, with doors that insulate the specimens from the environment. The archives are directly connected to the specimen-processing, photography and study laboratory, allowing easy access to the collections. In addition, these laboratory rooms have digitization equipment, microscopes, camera set-ups and 3-D printers, further maximizing the capacity of the museum to upload and replicate data so that they can be made available to researchers worldwide. Not only is the general storage quite easy to access for research, but the teaching specimens used for general paleontological-geological classes are ready on-demand in the facility. As we toured the storage area, we were introduced to many specimens which are valuable for studies in paleontology, ranging from pristine crinoids and Nautilus to giant ammonites and tiny Cambrian-era trilobites, and to specimen of mysterious, unidentified sponges. The expedition members were extremely impressed with the Peabody Museum’s behind-the scene operations, and greatly appreciated Susan Butts, the senior collections manager of the Division of Invertebrate Paleontology, who showed us around.

Susan Butts (center), our expedition guide, and the expedition team’s Professor Ellen Thomas (right) and graduate student Melissa McKee (left)
Inside the Peabody Museum Archive’s Operation Room


A row of specimen storage cabinets
A beautiful plaster cast of a crinoid
A beautiful cross-section of a large ammonite
A specimen of a mystery organism, probably a sponge

Of course, our expeditions would not have been a complete tour of the museum if we had not experienced specimens as they are shown to the public. Our team was allowed to sneak in to the main area of the Peabody Museum through the backdoor. We were greeted by a giant wall of crinoid and arthropod fossils, and a model of a giant deep-water squid hanging from the ceiling. Trekking down to the first floor, we came to a fork in the road: one way would lead to the Archaeopteryx and Paleo-art exhibition (a temporary exhibit), another to the permanent fossil exhibitions. Professor Thomas led us through the impressive hallways of Mesozoic and Cenozoic fossils, commenting on the dinosaur exhibits and the large murals. Pointing at the famous world-through-the-ages murals, she commented on the evolution of dinosaurs and plants, from the beginning of the Mesozoic through the Late Cretaceous dinosaurs and flowering plants. True to the Peabody Museum’s reputation, the exhibits of the dinosaurs – and the later mammals, also with their mural of animals through Cenozoic times –  were mesmerizing. The arrangement of the dinosaurs’ bones in the middle of the hall conveyed the sense of enormity extremely well. In essence, the dinosaurs’ actual skeletons were arranged at the center of the hall, which contrasts the tiny visitor with the enormity of the dinosaurs. Moving past the main dinosaur exhibit to the other rooms, we saw that each was filled with a sense of the impressiveness of life-forms from bygone eras. From the many Ichthyosaurus to the Diplomystus dentatus of Wyoming (of which Wesleyan maintains a sizeable collection in the Joe Webb Peoples museum), the exhibition represented the paleontological worlds with great detail and pristine beauty. The team and I were greatly impressed by the Peabody Museum’s main exhibition halls.

The giant deep-sea squid at the entrance of the Peabody Museum
A group of dinosaurs skeletons throughout the ages displayed at the center of the permanent exhibit’s hall
An exhibition on the Triassic fish’s fossils of the Connecticut River Valley
A mural of mammal life through the Cenozoic era
A picture of the possible siblings to Greg, our resident bison in the Joe Webb Peoples Museum; also pictured is Melissa McKee,  expedition member.
A giant slab of fossilized fish and a palm leaf from the Green River Formation, Wyoming. The Joe Webb Peoples museum also has specimens from the Green River Formation, including fish and palm leaves.

Taking a different turn at the intersection, we visited the temporary exhibition of Archaeopteryx –  a type of animal which has features from small dinosaurs (non-avian dinosaurs, that is) as well as from birds (better called avian dinosaurs) – and the paleo-art created as inspired by these fossils. This non-permanent paleontology exhibition represents the interdisciplinary space between paleontology and art, showing re-imagination and recreation of Archaeopteryx and their environment, by different artists in colorful and fun ways. Due to the fact that many people still think of dinosaurs as scaly, reptile-like creatures, the Archaeopteryx – with its avian features and feathers – presents a new public education challenge for scientist and artist alike: how to show the very close family relations between ‘birds’ and ‘dinosaurs’, many of which we now know to have been feathered? The result was this exhibit: an imaginative series of artworks and creative imagination of Archaeopteryx. The artworks wonderfully educate the public through colorful illustration of various birdlike Archaeopteryx, their natural habitat, eating habits, stature, and living characteristics. We saw Archaeopteryx accompanied by fossils of other organisms: the animals had been buried in limestones deposited in shallow marine lagoons, and these limestones contain beautifully preserved fish, horse shoe crabs, echinoderms, and insects. Our Joe Webb Peoples Museum has a collection of such beautifully preserved specimens from that famous locality where Archaeopteryx was found, Solnhofen in Germany, obtained by curator S. Ward Loper through exchange of specimens with famous German paleontologist Karl von Zittel. As we walked into the exhibition, we were welcomed by artworks illustrating the evolution of Archaeopteryx into modern avian creatures. The painting replicated the famed style of Darwin’s human evolution to display each stage of transition of Archaeopteryx into modern birds.

A pristine specimen of the Archaeopteryx 
An illustration of the various Archaeopteryx (Picture courtesy of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History)
A plaster cast of the Archaeopteryx from the Penthouse of the Exley Science Center

Next, we saw an interactive illustration of various Archaeopteryx throughout the Mesozoic, simplistically explaining the various species of the creature through accessible technology. And as usual, we were amazed by the fossil specimens of the Archaeopteryx, beautifully preserved and presented by the Peabody Museum. Both of the exhibits – the Mesozoic dinosaurs and Cenozoic mammals, as well as the paleo-art of Archaeopteryx – impressed us greatly.

An illustration of the evolution of the Archaeopteryx (Picture courtesy of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History)

Our expedition to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History gave us new insight into the function of a successful museum, and how we can cooperate to create a great center for paleontological studies. The cooperation between museums, scientists, and the public is key to create a great and publicly-appealing museum, as we saw from the talk given by our professor Ellen Thomas. In addition to visually-impressive yet educational exhibitions in the museum, organized archive and accessible collections of specimens are key to a successful museum. Armed with this knowledge, we will make the Joe Webb People Museum as great if not better than the Peabody Museum – Stay tuned!

By Sajirat Palakarn

For more information, visit: http://peabody.yale.edu/

Special Thanks to Mrs. Melanie Brigockas, Public Relations & Marketing Manager, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Fossil Spotlight: Crawfordsville Crinoids

A crinoid fossil from Crawfordsville, Indiana in the Wesleyan University Joe Webb Peoples Museum (4th Floor Exley Science Center).

Crinoids are organisms that are neither abundant nor familiar to most people in today’s oceans. However, during most of the Paleozoic Era (from the Ordovician on) and in the early Mesozoic (Late Triassic through Jurassic), crinoids flourished in marine environments, carpeting the seafloor like a dense meadow of flowers. It is estimated that the number of extinct species of crinoids in the Paleozoic was 5 to 10 times greater than the 600 to 800 species that are currently living.[1]

Because of their “flower like” appearance, crinoids have been referred to as “sea lilies”, but do not be fooled: they are in fact animals. Crinoids belong to the phylum Echinodermata. Like other Echinoderms—sea stars, brittle stars, sea urchins, sand dollars, and sea cucumbers—crinoids have rough surfaces, five-sided symmetry, a calcium carbonate endoskeleton, a nervous system network without a central brain, and the ability to regenerate damaged body parts.[2]

In general, crinoids have four main body parts. The first are food-gathering arms. The arms have tiny ‘hairs’ (tube-feet, part of a hollow, hydraulic system present in all echinoderms) that capture suspended food particles and direct them towards the mouth. The number of arms varies from five, common in primitive species, to as many as 200 in some living species, but the number of arms is always a multiple of five.[3] The arms project from the second main body part, the calyx, which encompasses the crinoid’s major soft-bodied tissues and organs.[4] The lower part of the calyx is made up of rigid, five-sided plates.[5] The calyx and the associated arms are collectively referred to as the crown. Next is the stem, which is composed of a series of flat discs that pile on one another like a stack of coins (with a hole in the center). These stem pieces come in a variety of shapes—round, pentagonal, star-shaped, or elliptical. The stem elevates the crinoid’s body into a more sediment free zone above the sea floor.[6] Lastly, the holdfast anchors the crinoid’s stem to the sea floor. The now-extinct crinoids of the Paleozoic were predominantly fixed by their stalk to the ocean floor, although some crinoids lived attached to driftwood floating in surface waters, but only about ten percent of crinoids living today are estimated to have stems.[7] Non stalked forms are called comatulids (or feather stars).

The parts of a typical crinoid with a stem from the Paleozoic. Illustration by Melissa McKee.

Wesleyan University’s Joe Webb Peoples Museum has an amazing collection of crinoids from Crawfordsville, Indiana, which were donated by Henry I. Nettleton, in the late 1800s. The crinoids from localities in and near Crawfordsville are world renowned for their amazing diversity, abundance, large size, preservation, and superb three-dimensional relief. In addition, the beautiful blue-gray colors of these fossils appeal widely to both fossil collectors and museum visitors.[8]

More examples of the crinoid fossils from Crawfordsville, in the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Wesleyan University.

The preservation of the crinoids from Crawfordsville is very unusual. Crinoids are made up of multiple calcium carbonate plates held together by soft tissues, primarily ligaments. The ligaments are readily biodegradable. As a result, when crinoids die, their ligaments typically decompose within hours or a few days, leaving their plates to be easily scattered by currents or predators. Consequently, crinoid fossils are almost always found as what has become known as “crinoid hash”—scattered crinoid pieces. However, the Crawfordsville area had both shallow water conditions and an influx of silt from a neighboring delta. This caused the crinoids to be periodically buried alive by storm-generated slumping or silt flows. The crinoids were buried deep enough to avoid decomposition and predation, allowing for remarkable preservation.[9]

A sample of crinoid hash. Crinoid stem fragments are visible.

The Crawfordsville locality offers unprecedented insight into the ecology, morphology, and behavior of Mississippian-age (~ 350 million years) crinoid communities. Nearly half of the species found at Crawfordsville have at least one complete specimen, making it possible to determine the height of that species when it was alive. This helped scientists answer the question of how so many diverse crinoid species could thrive in such close proximity.[10] A clue is that different crinoid species are found with differing stem lengths, allowing each to find its own feeding niche in the water column. Additionally, even crinoids with stems of similar length can filter food particles of different sizes, as shown by different structure of their ‘arms’. In these ways, competition between the species was minimized and diversity could be maintained. This ecological phenomenon has become known as tiering, and is now widely recognized to have been an important aspect of the structure of benthic marine communities throughout much of the Phanerozoic[11], with tiering of suspension feeders most common in Silurian through Carboniferous and Late Triassic through Jurassic.[12] In today’s oceans, such highly diverse tiers of epifaunal organisms are no longer present, with too many active predators (fish, sea urchin) feeding in the water column.

By Melissa McKee

[1] Moore, R.C. and C. Teichert, eds, 1978. Introduction. In: Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, Part T, Echinodermata 2, Vol. 1, T7-T9. R.C. Moore and C. Teichert, eds. Geological Society of America and University of Kansas.

[2] Morgan, W. W., 2014, Collector’s Guide to Crawfordsville Crinoids, Schiffer Publishing, Limited.

[3] Brosius, L., 2005, Fossil Crinoids: Kansas Geological Society.

[4] Morgan, W. W., 2014, Collector’s Guide to Crawfordsville Crinoids, Schiffer Publishing, Limited.

[5] Brosius, L., 2005, Fossil Crinoids: Kansas Geological Society.

[6] Morgan, W. W., 2014, Collector’s Guide to Crawfordsville Crinoids, Schiffer Publishing, Limited.

[7] Moore, R.C. and C. Teichert, eds, 1978. Introduction. In: Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology, Part T, Echinodermata 2, Vol. 1, T7-T9. R.C. Moore and C. Teichert, eds. Geological Society of America and University of Kansas.

[8] Morgan, W. W., 2014, Collector’s Guide to Crawfordsville Crinoids, Schiffer Publishing, Limited.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ausich, W., 1999, Lower Mississippian Edwardsville Formation at Crawfordsville, Indiana, USA: Fossil crinoids. Edited by H. Hess, WI Ausich, CE Brett, and MJ Simms. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, p. 145-154.

[12] Ausich, W. I. and Bottjer, D. J., 1982. Tiering in suspension feeding communities on soft substrata throughout the Phanerozoic. Science, 216: 173-174.

Looking for Clara in Wesleyan history.

We are looking for documentation of the many fossils in the Wesleyan Collections, with much information in ancient, handwritten ‘accession books’ (dating back to the 19th century). In reading through the pages of these accession books, which in faded handwriting show which fossils were received in the Wesleyan Museum, when they came in, who collected and donated them, one sees that the collectors and donors alike were predominantly men, as judged from their names. It  comes as a surprise to see ‘Clara A. Pease’, obviously the name of a woman, as donor of earth-worm material to the collections: who was this Clara Alice Pease?

Unfortunately, I could not find out much about her, but the little bit I found is quite fascinating. I found her name in the Wesleyan alumni book, as an alumna in the year of 1882. I had of course known (but did not think of it) that Wesleyan had been co-educational early on in its history, with women first admitted in 1872, but the decision to admit women was rescinded in 1909. Wesleyan was a Methodist college, and Methodism had the well-established practice of educating young men and women together. The decision to admit women reflected the efforts of important trustees, specifically Orange Judd (a Wesleyan graduate of the year 1847). Orange Judd donated $100,000.- to Wesleyan for building the hall named after him,  named the Orange Judd Hall of Natural Sciences in 1871.

Scientific American (20 August, 1870) has the following text regarding the Judd Hall (which seems to imply that chemistry is a dangerous field of study):


The gift of Orange Judd, of this city, one hundred thousand dollars to the Wesleyan University, at Middletown, Conn., to found a museum of Natural History, and a school of chemistry and technology, is one of the noblest benefactions of modern times. 

A few years ago Mr. Judd was a student at that college. He was a poor boy, and compelled to make his way in the world, and encounter at the outset the difficulty of finding any school in which to study the natural sciences. With rare industry and perseverance he has been able to overcome all of these obstacles, and to create for himself a fortune that he now seems disposed to devote to the good of his fellow-men.

The Museum and Laboratory is 62 feet front, and 94 feet deep, and is practically five stories high, as the basement is mostly above the surface. It is built of Portland sandstone, and is essentially fire-proof, as the cornices, doors, and window frames are of iron, and the roof of slate, and an iron and brick floor, supported on brick and iron pillars and walls, completely shuts off all fire communication between the chemical department in the first story and basement, and the natural history  and cabinet rooms above. The window sashes are the only wood work exposed to fire from without, and the building is 76 feet distant from any other. 

The internal arrangement of the building is in accordance with the experience of the best experts in the county.

The President of the College, Dr. Cummings, Professors Johnston and Rice, in company with Mr. Judd, and the architect, Mr. Rogers, visited the laboratories of Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Brown, and Amherst Colleges, and after consultation with the professors of these institutions, decided upon the details of the construction, and the result has been the most complete museum and laboratory to be found in the county. Such a school cannot fail to greatly add to the usefullness of the Wesleyan University, and it is to be hoped that the alumni of the College, inspired by Mr. Judd’s noble example, may be led to contribute the necessary funds towards founding the professorships required by an efficient department of natural history and technology.

Orange Judd also was the father-in-law of the first curator of the Wesleyan Museum, George Brown Goode, a Wesleyan graduate (1870) and well-known ichthyologist, who went on to become the Assistant Secretary of the Smithsonian in charge of the National Museum.

Despite this advocacy by Mr Judd, clearly an influential man in Wesleyan’s history, the Wesleyan alumni records show that from 1872 until 1892, only 43 women graduated, and women thus were only a very small minority of the total number of undergraduates. As this webpage, titled ‘Wesleyan’s First Women‘ states:   ‘Upon graduating, most followed the mores of the time which forced women to choose between marriage and a career. Of the forty-three who graduated, twenty-three did not marry and went into careers, usually in teaching. ‘

Clara became a teacher. I have not been able to find out much about her or her life-after-Wesleyan by googling, but she became the author of a book on general science for use in a first year course at the high school level. The title page of the book lists her as Clara A Pease of the High School, Hartford, Connecticut.

The book is titled ‘A first year course in general science’, was published in 1915 by Charles E. Merrill, and includes ‘a simple laboratory course’, with the aim to ‘Study the thing itself, not study about it’. The author ‘ makes grateful acknowledgement ..to her former teacher, Professor William North Rice, of Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn.’ William North Rice (1845-1928) was a Wesleyan alumnus (class of 1865), a geologist, educator and Methodist minister who was deeply concerned with the reconciliation of science and religious faith. In 1867, he obtained a PhD at Yale, the first PhD in geology to be granted in the US.  He was professor in Geology at Wesleyan, serving as acting president several times, and as curator for the Wesleyan Museum: the accession books show many specimens were collected by him, from Europe and the US West.

Clara’s book is available digitally online (e.g. http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/60995#page/5/mode/1up, https://archive.org/details/afirstyearcours01peasgoog), and paper reprints of the book (on paper) can be bought through the publisher ‘Forgotten Books’. I found it of great interest to look at the wide range of topics covered in this book for high school (astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology and – following her own study interests from her undergraduate years at Wesleyan – geology).

The table of contents shows 26 chapters:


There are many figures all through the book, such as this one of what we now call a dinosaur footprint, then labeled as    ‘ an animal with a foot resembling a bird’s‘ (p. 193,  Chapter XVI):

At the end of the text is the Laboratory Manual, describing 31 exercises, listing necessary ingredients and questions.

Working to get our fossils documented thus thus provides interesting bits and pieces of information. Maybe we can find out more about Clara, which would helps us gain insight in how some of Wesleyan’s early women students were able to use the results of their intellectual activity as Wesleyan students later in their lives.

The Connecticut River Valley

For many, the Connecticut River, the longest river in New England, is a serene waterway, enriching Middletown and Wesleyan University with its broad expanse of quiet waters. The main artery of the Connecticut River Valley can be traced from ‘Fourth Connecticut Lake’ in New Hampshire (with its watershed reaching into Canada) to Old Saybrook/Old Lyme in Connecticut, where it flows into Long Island Sound.

The Connecticut River as seen from Middletown’s Harbor Park

However, among the geological-paleontological community, the Connecticut River Valley – the basin encompassing the area around the Connecticut River – is also known as a prime site for fossil collection. Since the early 19th century, Connecticut has been one of the many prime destinations to study and collect local fossils, ranging from dinosaur footprints to insect tracks, from fossil fish and plants to coprolites (fossilized poo). Many famous geologists and paleontologists, from Professor Edward Hitchcock of Amherst College to Wesleyan’s own Professor Joe Webb Peoples, were part of the community gathering large collections of fossils from the Connecticut River Valley. So, we want to understand the history and evolution of the Connecticut River Valley, the reason behind the occurrence of the Valley’s plentiful fossil specimens, and Wesleyan University’s relation to the preservation of remains of the ancient Valley.

Map of the Connecticut River Valley – Credit U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey

During the Mesozoic Era, which started 250 million years ago, the supercontinent ‘Pangaea’ started to split into the fragments which more or less form the present continents. This split was a violent process and did not result in clean borders of the fragments. When the North Atlantic Ocean opened late in the Triassic to early in the Jurassic (204-205 million years ago; the Triassic-Jurassic boundary is at 201.3 million years ago, large cracks formed in the Earth’s crust (one of which became the North Atlantic Ocean), and several other cracks marked places where the crust started to crack but did not open into an ocean. One of these formed in the region where we now see the Connecticut River Valley. The Earth’s crust stretched during the split of Pangaea so that several faults formed, and blocks of crust between faults could sink, forming a ‘rift valley’ (similar to the one in present-day East Africa). On the East side of the Connecticut River Valley, the Eastern Border Fault (which can be traced from Keene, NH to New Haven, CT) is the contact between the sediments that were deposited in the rift valley, and the much older rocks further to the East. Note that the Connecticut River as we know thus flows out of the old rift valley (which continues to New Haven) into the older rocks, and continues further to the East, to Old Saybrook.


An artist recreation of the Connecticut River Valley during the Mesozoic Era

Within the sunken rift valley, which was close to the equator in Triassic-Jurassic times, sediments were deposited, in alluvial fans spreading from the Eastern border fault, and in sandstone and shale bodies, deposited in the lakes, large river bends, and floodplains, which came to dominate the surrounding valley. These water bodies became both the home and the grave of many lifeforms from the late Triassic and early Jurassic times in Connecticut. As a consequence, many of the Mesozoic creatures indigenous to Connecticut, from the various dinosaurs as known from their footprints to ancient fish and even insects, were preserved in the sediments which were deposited in and around the lakes.


Cross section of the Connecticut River Valley – Credit U.S. Department of Interior, U.S. Geological Survey

In essence, some of these lifeforms  (dinosaurs) left deep marks in the muddy floodplains, which then became encased in sediments after the area reflooded, as we can see in the case of Eubrontes giganteus. Countless fish died in the lakes (which suffered periods of oxygen loss), then became encapsulated by the sediments.

Professor Joe Webb People

Wesleyan University, under the guidance of eminent curators and professors from Mr. S. Ward Loper, Mr. George Brown Goode, Professor W. N. Rice, to Professor Joe Webb Peoples, was at the forefront in preserving the old environments of the Connecticut River Valley. Beginning in the late 19th century, Ward S. Loper, Browne Good, and North Rice were instrumental in establishing extensive geological and paleontological records of the Valley. Through their collection of Connecticut River Valley fossils, they amassed an extensive selection of local specimens and displayed them to the public at Wesleyan University. Important fossils in the Wesleyan Collection are the type material of the footprint called ‘Otozoum moodii’, a footprint which is much rare than those of other dinosaurs, and which had been thought to be missing, but is in fact built into the wall of Exley Science Center (Wesleyan Collection number 183, as cited by Hitchcock in 1889). In addition, there are jaws of the rare coelacanth Diplurus longicaudatus, first described by Newberry in 1878 and collected by S Ward Loper in Durham, CT.

A specimen of Otozoum moodii – now installed into the wall of Exley Science Center

At one time, hundreds of Connecticut’s fossils were proudly shown (and many hundreds more preserved in the collections) in the Orange Judd Hall of Natural Sciences. In addition, Wesleyan University and Professor Joe Webb Peoples played a significant part in erecting the biggest fossil preservation area in the Connecticut River Valley, appropriately named ‘Dinosaur State Park.’ Later, Nick McDonald and Peter Letourneau contributed significantly to the study of the fossils from the Connecticut River Valley. Presently, some beautiful specimens of these priceless collections are available for all to see at the Joe Webb Peoples Museum on the 4th floor of Exley Science Center.

The Dinosaur State Park at present

In addition to its beauty, the Connecticut River Valley is scientifically priceless, with its deposits of numerous delicate, beautifully preserved fossils. The formation of the rift basin during the Mesozoic era created one great condition for fossil accumulation. The sedimentary materials and the various deposits from the rift valley lakes created a perfect environment for preservation of life throughout the ages. Wesleyan University, through the leadership of great paleontologists, helped solidify the eminence of Connecticut’s paleontological credentials.
Our river has more than meet the eyes, but its present course became established only in a geological instance, after the melting of the great ice sheets which covered our area during the last glacial maximum (or ice age), about 24,500 years ago.

By Sajirat Palakarn

Unseen Wesleyan Part 1: The Penthouse

Exley Science Center does not exactly seem to be the most mysterious place on the Wesleyan campus, but few people know about the existence of ‘The Penthouse’. If you have ever taken a class in one of the natural science fields, frequented the lovely Science Library, or patronized the comfort coffee of the Pi Café, you have experienced a bit of Exley. However, even among the hard-core science students of Wesleyan University, few have ventured to the rooftop storage place appropriately named “The Penthouse.” The almost-mythical elements of the Penthouse, with its treasure house-like allure of abandoned scientific equipment, piqued this blogger’s curiosity. In addition, the Penthouse was rumored to host valuable and large plaster casts of fossils, being an ancient place filled to the brim with scientific history.

A corridor within the ‘Penthouse’

For a research assistant in the fields of Paleontology and Museum Science, going on an expedition is a necessity. So, the aforementioned rumors of the existence of plaster copies of rare fossils, which have not seen daylight since they were moved into Exley (~1970) in such a rarely-seen place goaded us into activity. As a part of the project to increase the visibility of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum, the mineralogy and paleontology museum on the 4th floor of Exley, I ventured to the mysterious Exley’s Penthouse, the topic of this first blog on Unseen Wesleyan.
The expedition started at around 1:30 pm on Friday, June 16, 2017. We popped into the creaky service elevator, using a special key obtained from an unknown source. The key barely registered any confirmation signal of activity, but our source assured us that it would work. The elevator pulled itself frustratingly slowly past the top (6th) story of Exley, and we arrived at the Penthouse. The thick, unventilated air mixed with layers of dust from Exley’s history threw me for a loop. The long corridors, lined with scattered steel cabinets were covered with heavy layers of dust, accumulated during Exley’s history of almost 50 years. We barged through scattered remnants of furniture and scientific equipment in search of the reported collections of fossil casts. Unsurprisingly, an obstacle got in our way: a locked gate in a steel fence. Our expedition specialist was able to produce a key to that lock, and the view in front of our eyes was breathtaking.

A specimen of Cenozoic life upon which we stumbled upon during the expedition. While still early in the analysis, experts believe that this was an evidence of the Science In Society Program’s earlier-than-expected arrival to Exley.


An obstacle before the treasure

In front of us was a mountain of old scientific equipment. Looking at a pile of discarded Apple II computers and rows of iron cabinets with mysterious materials inside, as well as piles of cardboard boxes, we knew that it was going to take some time to find all the rumored fossil casts. Luckily, we easily distinguished some of the fossil casts among all the other things, mainly due to the sheer size of the wooden pallets holding some of the casts. Even so, the actual data collection on the casts, and identification of the fossils, required a considerable amount of time, muscle, and expertise.

Buried Treasure


The Excavation

Then, something dramatic happened: while we were clambering over the dusty cases containing the plaster casts, all the lights went out. While we were not in danger of tripping over the mountain of unused equipment, the darkness stopped our operation entirely. Understanding the major problem we were facing, I volunteered to make the track back down the Penthouse elevator in search of help. With the help of our technician, we were able to restore the light to our excavation area. Who would have thought that working in a museum could be this dangerous?

Picture of the courageous expedition crews retrieving a rare specimen of ancient light bulbs in  the Penthouse. In the picture: Professor Ellen Thomas and Mr. Joel Labella

Our grimy and dusty expedition yielded substantial results. We were able to document the presence of valuable fossil plaster casts of unusual fossils not seen for more than 40 years. We discovered more than 50 fossilized fish casts, mammal skulls and crocodile teeth, and even a life-sized cast of a Homo sapiens skeleton – human skeleton in laymen’s term. One particularly interesting specimen was a cast of a tail of a Glyptodon, an extinct giant armored mammal which lived during the Pleistocene epoch, a relative of the living armadillo. According to the official records from the 1970s, the plaster casts were supposed to include a full body replica of Glyptodon, which means a complete set of tail, body, head, and limbs. Judging from the size of the tail, we estimated that the complete cast of a full-sized replica of a Glyptodon would be around the size of a small city car or a classic Volkswagen. We did not find the other parts – the body, head, and limbs – so these may have been lost or still out there somewhere, around the campus. Besides those, we also found a number of Ichthyosaurus fossil casts, a marine reptile looking a bit like a dolphin (but not related to it), which lived in the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic. Lastly, we found a plaster cast of  Andrias scheuchzeri, the famous fossil of a giant salamander discovered in the early 1700s which were thought to be a man drown in the biblical Deluge. All in all, the expedition was a success.

A well-preserved cast of Archaeopteryx macura – a life form transitional between non-avian feathered dinosaurs and modern birds.
A cast of Homo sapiens – Human skeleton
A plaster cast of Andrias scheuchzeri – a fossil of an extinct giant salamander

Many might think that museum work is about a few curators watching people, telling them not to touch the artifacts or the paintings. While the job could involve a little bit of that, curators are actually enthusiasts on their subject matter, and they preserve crucial scientific specimens for the good of humanity. The Joe Webb Peoples Museum at Exley is no exception. However, my job is not over yet. We caught another rumor that a cache of fossil may have been stored in the tunnel system below Butterfield College and Foss Hill dorms. Another journey awaits!

By Sajirat Palakarn