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Webb Canyon Chronicle

The Student News Site of The Webb Schools

Webb Canyon Chronicle

The Student News Site of The Webb Schools

Webb Canyon Chronicle

How to prepare a fossil

Eric Luo
Jared Heuck, a curator at the Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology, works with Sage Montgomery (‘26) to inject glue into a large femur with a syringe. Heuck employs syringes to improve the structural integrity of specimens by filling in extra cracks with paraloid glue. “Part of my job as a curator is also conservation,” Heuck said. “We have a number of glues that we use depending on the specimen and formation, but the goal is to make sure the specimen is consolidated and secure.”

“We don’t have dedicated tools for [fossil preparation],” said Jared Heuck, a curator at the Raymond Alf Museum of Paleontology. “Everyone has just figured out the best ways to do these things, and it’s pertinent that we share.”  

Every lab looks different since working in a niche, yet technical field requires you to improvise, develop new methods, and learn from your peers. Heuck uses everything from toothbrushes and plaster to syringes. 

But before understanding how, why prepare fossils? When a fossil arrives from the field, it almost always comes fractured and buried in rock. To study and present the fossil, you reveal its contents and reconstruct the organism that formed it while preserving it for future enthusiasts and researchers. 

Paleontology provides indispensable knowledge on Earth’s past and pathways for its future, so every piece of information we can glean is important. As such, you must analyze the rock that surrounds the fossil, called the matrix, which can provide invaluable information. 

“A single vertebra sitting in a prep lab is not going to have much scientific value,” Heuck said. “However, the matrix shows us the environment it came from, providing a complete picture.” 

The most common tool for fossil prep is the air scribe. Air scribes resemble pens, spitting out air to vibrate the tip, which allows them to break softer rock and slowly split off chunks one layer at a time until you reveal the fossil. 

While air scribing is the most visually satisfying part of fossil prep, curators use other tools for precise matrix removal, such as metal scrapers, dental equipment, or toothbrushes. These slower manual tools can remove rock without risk of damaging the fossil. 

If the fossil is softer than the rock around it, you can use more technical methods, such as acid prep or baking soda. For example, Heuck cooperated with the La Brea tar pits, and the Alf Museum has become the second museum to do Asphaltic fossil preparation 

After removing the matrix, you can often glue the pieces together to form a coherent final product. Heuck uses archival polaroid glue for rough gluing and syringes to inject additional glue into small cracks, improving the structural integrity of the fossils. 

Peering into the era of dinosaurs and mammals requires more than just breaking up rock; it is an collaborative and creative effort, which also reveals facets of the present and future. “A well-prepared fossil can open the door to new discoveries, and keep them available for future generations,” Heuck said. 

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About the Contributor
Eric Luo
Eric Luo, Co-Editor of News
A skilled conductor Eric Luo (‘25) adeptly orchestrates a symphony of diverse talents, weaving together creative writing, music, and culinary arts. This summer, he not only sharpened his writing skills at a Kenyon College creative writing camp but also explored African history at a Stanford summer camp. As a multi-instrumentalist, he is proficient in saxophone and is self-taught in bassoon and piano. He takes this musical passion a step further by creating compositions on digital audio workstations, such as Logic. Alongside his commitment to composing music and writing, Eric is a cooking enthusiast, dedicated to both the scientific and artistic aspects of gastronomy. Eric’s cooking skills venture beyond conventional recipes as he channels his passion toward cheese-making. Driven by his curiosity for food chemistry and biology, Eric started making cheese during the pandemic. While he loves Brie and Gorgonzola, a timeless classic mozzarella is his favorite to create. From his experimentation in culinary science to writing styles particularly in creative nonfiction essays Eric continually challenges himself. This year, he also aims to experiment in the Webb Canyon Chronicle and transition from feature articles to publishing more opinion pieces to foster change by promoting underrepresented points of view in Webb and the world at large.   Favorite Song: "Big Toe" by The Growlers

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