Microfossil Conservation and Digitization

A brief history of the Microfossil Collection:

Archival image of micropaleontologist Angelina Messina using a microscope, with specimen jars in front of her and some specimens laid out on the table.
Angelina Messina
AMNH Library Special Collections

The Foraminifera and Ostracoda Microfossil catalog was initiated by Brooks F. Ellis at New York University (NYU) in 1928. He recruited his Ph.D student Angelina R. Messina to help systematize the literature of the foraminifera. The project was co-sponsored by NYU but eventually taken over by AMNH in 1935.

Angelina Messina joined AMNH to supervise the compilation of the catalog and to curate the microfossil collection that arrived later, mostly from Columbia University dissertation specimens and research material deposited here at AMNH. Donations from oil companies that carried out exploration activities in South America also added to this collection.  Today the AMNH Microfossil collection contains ca. 7,000 specimen lots that appear in several publications and  seminal monographs on Foraminifera and Ostracoda. 

PI Neil Landman

Many of the localities represented by these specimens are no longer accessible and many of the specimens were in poor physical condition and remained uncataloged. Thus, they were at risk of further deterioration. In the early 1980s, a great bulk of the original associated non-type material and some type material was sent to the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. The 7,000 specimen lots that remained (mostly types) at AMNH were at risk of specimen loss and data dissociation due to suboptimal storage and lack of digitization.

Co-PI Ruth O'Leary

Because of its importance to foraminifera and ostracoda taxonomy, its broad geographic and stratigraphic range and its usefulness as indicators of past geologic events in paleoceanographic and paleoclimate studies, the curation and rehabilitation of our Microfossil collection began gradually in 2011. In 2012, a grant specifically intended for this purpose, NSF grant #1203394, was awarded to Principal Investigator Neil Landman and Co-Principal Investigator Ruth O'Leary.

Rehousing and digitization commenced in earnest in the summer of 2013, when 6 interns were hired as part of the NSF grant to help curate, catalog and digitize the micropaleontology collection. The interns have kept a blog detailing their experiences throughout their time working on the project. Over the coming two years, we hope to electronically link the data gathered from our microfossil types to its much larger sister collection at the NMNH creating new, potentially transformative, research opportunities.

It is anticipated that the use of a CT scanner to scan 50 microfossil types during this project will initiate and develop a new approach to studying and documenting these microfossils, producing images that can be widely disseminated.


Six photos showing Museum interns at desks
Our six interns from 2013, Courtney, Amanda, Autumn, Beth, Rabia, and Sam