200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 77: “Power Tools and Fossil Bones ”

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photo of Fred Mullison
Fossil preparator Fred Mullison employs a carbide-tipped needle mounted in a pin vise to separatethe skull roof of a small, unidentified Devonian-age fish from the surrounding rock.

Power Tools and Fossil Bones

“It’s kind of like a miniature jackhammer,” says Academy fossil preparator Fred Mullison of the air scribe he uses to extract small fossils from rock. An air scribe, a pen-like instrument that is powered by an air compressor, is one of many tools that Fred and his team use to extract small fossils from the rocks in which they’re fossilized. Other tools include a pin vise, which looks like a shorter version of a dentist’s probe and is ideal for precise, fine-point work, and a high-powered microscope, which helps magnify small fossils to remove them with minimal bone loss.

The length of this process depends on the size and intricacy of the fossil. Tiktaalik roseae, an important Devonian fossil fish that a team of Academy paleontologists discovered in Nunavut, Canada, in 2006, took six months to extract completely. We continue to send casts of Tiktaalik all over the world for study and exhibit. This is one of many examples of how the Academy continues to foster research and knowledge advancement in the field of fossil study.

Come by Dinosaur Hall to enjoy some of our particularly big and scary extractions!

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