Preparation in Action: paleontological skill and the role of the fossil preparator

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Oct 2, 2011, 2:09:02 PM10/2/11
to History of Paleontology
Here's a recent paper about paleontology by a history of science
student in Cambridge, England:

"Preparation in Action: paleontological skill and the role of the
fossil preparator" by Caitlin Wylie

Abstract: Despite widespread interest in paleontology, few people know
how paleontologists produce knowledge about past life. How does a
fossil change from a fragile eroded rock into a scientific specimen?
Fossil preparation, or the processes carried out to make fossils
useful for research and exhibition, shapes how fossils are studied and
interpreted. This essay explores the work and role of the people who
carry out these crucial processes. A case study of a recent
preparation project illustrates the elements of technique, science,
and art involved in the multifaceted work of a preparator. Based on
interviews with preparators at the Natural History Museum in London
and the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences in Cambridge, England, this
essay argues that preparators serve as mediators between nature and
researchers. Thus to understand how paleontology is done, we must
understand the roles of preparators and their work.

Available here as a PDF:


Oct 2, 2011, 9:11:03 PM10/2/11
to History of Paleontology
Interesting read. I had never realized that preparators would strive
so hard to make the least possible alterations to a find, even leaving
large portions of rock matrix for context. I wonder, too, how often
the work of a preparator is "undone" when new theories pose new

When did preparation become its own discipline? Weren't scientists
like Leidy working at Eastern museums, not in the field, and doing (or
at least directing) preparation themselves?


> Available here as a PDF:
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