VMNH is new home to Cretaceous fossil collection
The Virginia Museum of Natural History has received its first triceratops fossil specimen that the museum hopes to be able to display within its exhibit galleries in the future. The Triceratops skull, which was collected in Montana in 1998, is part of a fossil collection that was recently transferred to the museum from the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum in Winchester, Virginia.
Like many of the specimens from the collection, the Triceratops fossils are still in the original field jackets that were used to safely extract the fossils from the ground and preserve them during storage. Although museum scientists expect the reconstruction and preparation of the bones to take months, or even years, they remain optimistic that the skull will one day be part of the museum's exhibits.
"This collection fills an important gap in VMNH's fossil collections, and will expand our ability to do exhibits on the Mesozoic Period,” said Dr. Alton Dooley, curator of paleontology at VMNH. “It will take many years to prepare the entire collection. The Triceratops skull alone may require 1 or 2 years of lab work to prepare it for exhibit. However, during the preparation process visitors will be able to view the skull in our exhibit lab window and follow our progress on the VMNH paleontology blog.
The entire collection is an important addition to the museum's approximately 10 million specimens. The museum's collections contain a wide variety of specimens from many different time periods, but had few from the Cretaceous period, a time period which spanned from approximately 145 million years ago to 65 million years ago and is often referred to as being the last portion of the "Age of Dinosaurs".
“Our colleagues at the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum deserve a lot of credit for seeking out a proper permanent home for these valuable fossils,” said Dr. Joe B. Keiper, executive director of VMNH. “Here, the fossils will be an asset to any researcher from anywhere in the world who wishes to visit the collection.”
Because the fossils were collected on federal lands in Montana, they remain federal property and are required to be stored within a designated repository that meets certain requirements. Often, such requirements are only met by major state museums and research facilities, such as the Virginia Museum of Natural History.
In late 2012, Mary Braun, executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, paleontologist George E. Bennett, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) paleontologist Gregory Liggett, made the decision to transfer the collections to VMNH, which is already a repository for other BLM fossil specimens.
The majority of the collection’s specimens were collected in the late 1990’s on federal land administered by the BLM. Most of the specimens were collected by Dr. John Happ, then of Shenandoah University, with additional collecting performed by Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum staff.
To learn more about the research and collections program of the Virginia Museum of Natural History, visit www.vmnh.net. To learn more about the paleontology efforts of the museum and Dr. Alton Dooley, visit paleoblog.org. To learn more about the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum, visit discoverymuseum.net.