Royal Mapes Collection

Four trilobite fossils.
Devonian Trilobites, Morocco.
Stephen Thurston

The Museum has acquired a spectacular and extremely valuable scientific collection of 540,000 marine Upper Paleozoic fossils from Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas that complements our existing collection of 4.5 million fossil invertebrates and 500,000 fossil vertebrate specimens, 700 specimens from this new acquisition are type and figured specimens. It is one of the largest specimen donations the Museum has ever received. The new collection was assembled over 45 years by Professors Royal and Gene Mapes, and their students at Ohio University.

Two men wheeling a pallet down a ramp stacked high with material and wrapped in clear plastic sheeting.
Edit. Staff and students offload the pallets stacked with the Mapes fossils.
Stephen Thurston

The fossils include invertebrates such as nautiloids, ammonoids, crinoids, sponges, brachiopods, trilobites, bivalves, gastropods, as well as vertebrates such as exquisitely preserved fish skulls. In addition to material from North America, the Mapes collection includes fossils from Morocco including ammonoids from the international type locality at Bou Tchrafine, Morocco. A number of the specimens represent more distant locations, including Russia, Japan, England, Ireland and Vietnam, the latter where Royal Mapes was stationed as an officer in the United States Army.

Devonian ammonoids from the Royal Mapes collection
Devonian Ammonoids, Morocco.
Stephen Thurston

The collection arrived at the American Museum of Natural History in early December 2013 on 16 shipping pallets and weighed fifteen thousand pounds. This material provides rich opportunities for scientific research for professionals and students far into the future, allowing us to examine marine biodiversity throughout earth history and further our study of phenomics, the investigation of the shape and structure of animals over time.

A wide shot of a collections storage room at the Museum, where two people are removing wrapped specimens from large flat wooden drawer bottoms stacked on the floor.
Students and staff take the Mapes fossils out of the shipping drawers to be placed into AMNH collections drawers.
Stephen Thurston

Additionally, the spectacular nature of many of the specimens will provide opportunities for exhibitions to convey the diversity of marine organisms and their evolutionary patterns. The donation fills a chronological gap in the Museum’s existing collection of Upper Paleozoic cephalopods and will help maintain the museum in the top ranks among natural history museums worldwide.

Recent Nautilus pompilius, Fiji.
Stephen Thurston

Museum scientists have been studying the Mapes collection through collaborative work with Ohio University over the past few decades. John Maisey, curator-in-charge for the fossil fish collection in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology, has already described two new fish species; one in 1989 and one that is currently in press. Many other cephalopods have been examined and studied from this collection by Neil Landman, curator-in-charge of fossil invertebrates.

Professor Royal Mapes and Fossil Collections Manager Ruth O'Leary orchestrate and unpack fossils.
Stephen Thurston

Together Landman, Mapes and post-doctoral fellow Isabelle Kruta have investigated the buccal apparatus (jaw and teeth) of these ammonoids to gain insights into the diet of these animals as well as their phylogenetic relationships. This has resulted in a number of publications in Lethaia, Palaeontology, and the Journal of Paleontology. Neil Landman and his colleagues will continue to work on these specimens to learn more about systematics and evolution of cephalopods. The collection is now being organized into the Museum’s permanent research collections.

In 2015, a three-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), grant # MA-30-15-0491-15, was awarded to the Museum for the rehousing, conservation, and cataloging of the Royal Mapes Collection. Work on the project began in 2015 and will continue through 2018. Interns were hired each summer to work on the project as part of the grant. The interns maintained a blog detailing their work and experiences in the summers of both 2016 and 2017.