This blog will be an ongoing chronicle of collections management activities with the Museum of Geology, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.  Through it, we hope to document current collections organization efforts as we continue settling in to our new facility.

After transferal of the collections into the Martin Paleontology Research Laboratory by spring of 2012, staff at the Museum began the task of unpacking and organizing.  This is, of course, a work in progress, and would not be possible without the dedication of faculty, staff, and students.  Current organization efforts focus on collections from the Western Interior Seaway, and on several invertebrate and protist collections, including the career collections of Dr. Laurie Anderson (Director) and Dr. Christina Belanger (Curator of Micropaleontology).

For our inaugural post, we’ll introduce you to two of our current undergraduate employees, Darrah Jorgensen and Tait Earney.  They’ve each been working with us for about three months.

Darrah Jorgensen

I grew up in eastern Kansas and came to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSM&T) for my undergraduate degree. I am currently a graduating senior majoring in Geology and minoring in Geospatial Technology. I have been interested in paleontology since I was eight years old and have dreamed of conducting research with fossils. Now I’m finally getting the chance.

When I told my family and friends that I got this job, they wanted to know details. When I told them I was micro-picking, wet and dry sieving, and working mainly with Miocene shells, they were silent.  They then asked if I was actually working with fossils. There was a break in communication where they believed that if I wasn’t working with dinosaurs, I wasn’t working with fossils. Who could possibly be interested in a barnacle?


 Some of the specimens Darrah has been working with.

I wasn’t sure I would be interested when I started. I’ve always been interested in vertebrate paleontology, but this project has opened my eyes to a different side of paleontology. I have been working on this research project for approximately three months and now have some idea of what I am doing. The sample I am currently working on is from the Chesapeake Bay area, from the basal portions of the Plum Point Member of the Calvert Formation. The most common remains include barnacle plates, turritellid gastropods, and bivalves.  The best find was a pearl, which pretty much made my work week!


 The pearl in question.

At the moment, wet sieving and micro-picking are my favorite part of the process. This portion of the process utilizes an approximately 1/32 split of the full sample, or around 50 -100 grams. We then sieve the sample through a 63 micron sieve using water to force the silt out. This part is fun. I’m not really sure why; I just enjoy it. After the sample has dried, we take approximately 2 grams and sieve that into additional samples of 500, 250, and 125 microns that we then pick under a microscope. In these samples I have found echinoderm spines and the occasional bryozoan.

Tait Earney

I am a junior level undergraduate studying geology at SDSM&T. I am from Whitney, NE, and attended high school in Chadron, NE. In general I love being outdoors.  Some of my favorite hobbies include hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, and playing the piano. Thus far I have had a great experience living in Rapid City, being so close to the Black Hills, as it provides an excellent opportunity to get out and explore the region and its natural beauty.

For the last semester, I have been providing research assistance under the direction of Dr. Laurie Anderson and Dr. Christina Belanger. The research we are conducting focuses on cataloging species diversity in Cenozoic marine sediments. Until now, our work has consisted of prepping samples for analysis by weighing, splitting, sieving, and washing sediments. After those tasks are completed, we move on to picking the samples for any identifiable taxa, and set them aside for later identification. This process involves searching for both macro and microfossils

So far, I have really enjoyed my experience. I have gained a better understanding of just how complex marine ecosystems and environments can be. For example, before I began work on this project, I thought marine sediment would look much like terrestrial sediment, fairly boring and bland overall, but with a few more bivalve or snail shells. Boy was I wrong! I was amazed at the amount of fossilized material present, and realized that what I thought would be “dirt” was almost entirely composed of shells and shell fragments. I was even more amazed when I took a look at the sample under a microscope and discovered that the microfossils I found were as complex and diverse as the macrofossils.  Some of my most interesting finds have been a pearl, shark teeth, and vertebrae from what I suspect is a small fish.


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