Viegas & Benton, 2014: A CONSERVATION AND PREPARATION OVERVIEW
INTRODUCTION
which more progress was made in extracting
bones from the large rock pile. However, it was
"Dinosaurs have always been an excellent
only with funding from the HLF, from 2010-
means of engaging people of all ages,
2013,
that
substantial
progress
in
the
especially children" (Benton et al., 2012:210),
laboratory work was made.
but much work by fossil preparators and
Initially we were faced with what seemed to be
curators is needed before a dinosaur specimen
a rather straightforward project. The 1975
is ready for research or display. Europe´s
Tytherington material fell into two main
museums and universities hold valuable natural
categories.
history collections, but unfortunately, many of
(1)
The
first
consignment
consisted
of
them are in great need of attention from
approximately four tons of Triassic fissure fill
curators, conservators and preparators. This
deposits, mostly breccias and conglomerates of
problem can be attributed to a lack of
different sizes, ranging from small hand-held
personnel, financial support, and in some cases
cobbles to large, heavy boulders. These rocks
the lack of institutional interest in undertaking
had not been processed and they would be the
such daunting tasks with older collections.
target of chemical and mechanical preparation
The Bristol Dinosaur Project (BDP; Benton et
and the recovered bones curated into a new
al., 2012) demonstrates how funding from a
research collection.
heritage conservation agency, such as the UK
(2) The second consignment comprised parts of
Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), can be vital for
the Tytherington collection that had been
rehabilitating
unique
scientific
resources,
prepared at different times since 1975, and
bringing them to the highest curatorial
housed partly in the University's museum and
standards and making them available for
in the old laboratory space. Some specimens
research and education. Here we outline the
had been removed cleanly from the rock,
nature of the collections as they arrived from
whereas others were partially prepared or
the field, the steps involved in extracting,
variously incomplete.
conserving, and curating the bones, and the
many ways in which students were involved.
THE REAL CHALLENGE
THE APPARENT CHALLENGE
On examining the four tons of rock from the
1975 collection, the first issue was the physical
state of the specimens, especially those that
The Bristol dinosaur collections date back to the
had been prepared in the last 30 years. These
1830s. The first remains of Thecodontosaurus
specimens were partly exposed and had been
antiquus were discovered in 1834, and named
semi-prepared, semi-consolidated or glued with
in 1836. Through the 1830s and 1840s,
a variety of materials. There was a myriad of
hundreds of bones were extracted from the
crates and boxes with loose, broken bones,
Durdham Downs quarries in the Clifton area of
tossed in with no order or much care for the
Bristol, and these were largely acquired by the
physical integrity of the specimens (Figure 1).
precursor of the current Bristol City Museum
This mixture of boxes of broken bones, shards
and Art Gallery (Benton 2012). The remains
and rock dust included in some cases
were described and illustrated in several
specimens with old collection numbers glued to
scientific publications, but most of the better-
them, sharing the same box with unidentified
quality display material was lost during a bomb
specimens, or in other cases loose collection
attack on the Museum in 1940. The remaining
identification numbers lay around in boxes,
parts of the collection were re-assessed and
which were in turn shared by multiple, loose,
described in detail later (Benton et al., 1990).
broken specimens, making it impossible to
In 1975, a fresh collection of bones, presumed
know which specimen was associated with
to belong to the same dinosaurian species, was
which
number
(Figure
2).
The
storage
found at Tytherington Quarry, near Bristol, and
difficulties had arisen partly because the
these were delivered to the University. Initial
collection had been moved several times, and
studies were carried out as part of his PhD by
had had to be stored in cellars while the
Whiteside (1983), but he was only able to
Palaeontology Laboratory was reconstructed
prepare a small portion of the bones. Later,
and refurbished in 2010.
funding was obtained from the Leverhulme
There were also chemical-related problems with
Trust for a further project, in the 2000s, in
many specimens. Some prepared specimens
51 Journal of Paleontological Techniques