Yellowstone Paleo Survey: Stratigraphy

Collections And Curation

Museum Collections

Because of the limited amount of paleontological research which has been done at the park, the park’s museum fossil x5collection is relatively small. However, an examination of the few dozen fossil specimens curated into the museum collection and the associated records provides an initial insight into the geographic and taxonomic diversity of the fossils preserved in the park. See Appendix E for a list of fossil specimens in the park’s museum collection.

The park has four types of fossil collections: museum storage in the Albright Visitor Center basement; a warehouse in Gardiner (Building 2009); interpretive collections throughout the park; and collections made by Wayne Hamilton in the Physical Sciences trailer. Surveys of these collections have included a consideration of the scope of collection, security, and organization.

Scope. The scope of the fossil collections for Yellowstone's museum collection may become better refined through the data presented in this document. In general, the fossil collection is inadequate in terms of both the quality of the specimens and the diversity of the fossils included. More representative specimens should be obtained for research and interpretive purposes. In addition, the museum has specimens from localities outside the park, including fossil horse elements from Chalk Cliffs north of Gardiner, that may be beyond the desired scope of its collection, given storage limitations.

Security. Although the security of the park's collections at Mammoth and Gardiner is very good, that of specimens in the interpretive collections is unknown and may vary. Because of lack of storage space and pending receipt of the collector's field notes, the specimens in the Physical Sciences trailer have not been formally added to the collection and are not adequately secured.

Organization. Specimens are arranged in a single cabinet. As the fossil collections expand, a different organization may better accommodate research needs. From a research perspective, the best approach would be based on stratigraphy or taxonomy. If warranted by the size of the collection and space availability, stratigraphy should be the primary subdivision and taxonomy the secondary subdivision. Storage cabinets can be arranged according to the geologic time scale, and the stratigraphic unit (e.g., Mississippian Lodgepole Limestone) can be represented sequentially within each geologic time period. Within each stratigraphic unit, specimens can be arranged taxonomically (e.g., corals, brachiopods, crinoids, etc.).

Another issue related to fossil acquisition is the need to obtain copies of field notes and sketches. These records can be valuable for future research and should be routinely incorporated into the museum records.

Recommendations for Park Fossil Collections

• Acquire better representative fossil specimens for research and interpretion.

• Examine interpretive collections for significant fossil specimens and determine if these specimens should be placed into the museum collection.

• Locate and assess fossil collections stored in the Physical Sciences trailer and incorporate significant specimens into the park's museum collection.

• Reorganize storage of park fossil specimens (museum intern working on this project in September 1996).

• Ensure that researchers submit field records associated with paleontological resources and collections.

Recommendations for Photo Archives

• Photodocument all specimens curated into the park's collections.

• Photodocument all Yellowstone fossil specimens in outside collections.

• Attempt to locate historic photos of park fossils in outside collections (e.g., Smithsonian, Loma Linda University).

• Photodocument all known fossil localities.

• Produce slides of representative park fossils for the interpretive collections.

Photographic Archives

Historic photos. A 1996 database search of Yellowstone's photographic archives found 63 historic photos related to the park's paleontological resources, all of them of Tertiary petrified wood.

Museum specimens. The 1996 photographs taken of fossil specimens in the park's museum collection satisfy NPS collections management policies and will facilitate future paleontological research.

Interpretive slides. Most of the paleontology-related slides in the interpretive files at Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful are of fossils or fossil reconstructions from outside the park. A handful of slides show Yellowstone's petrified wood and fossil leaves. The park photographer, Jim Peaco, has some photos of the fossil plant material discovered during the East Entrance Road Construction that have not been cataloged into the park's archives.

Additional photographic resources. More comprehensive documentation of paleontological localities would enhance efforts in research, protection, and interpretation of the historic record of life in Yellowstone. Historic photos may exist in collections held by past researchers or outside museums. Such photos of petrified wood localities could provide significant baseline data for monitoring impacts that result from erosion or illegal collection.

Options for Specimen Storage

The question of whether to retain park specimens within the park's collections or loan them to outside repositories emerges repeatedly throughout the National Park Service. Five options are offered below for the management of Yellowstone's paleontological collections.

Recommendations for Fossil Collections in Outside Repositories

• Organize meeting with park curator and relevant staff to discuss issues related to managing the park's fossil collections at the park or in an outside repository.

• Inventory the park's fossil collections and associated data or field notes in outside repositories; incorporate into the Yellowstone Museum collections database.

• Review status of recent park fossil collections and evaluate with regard to compliance with permits and NPS standards.


1. The Yellowstone National Park Museum. Although many factors need to be taken into consideration, if adequate staff, space, funding and environmental conditions are present, park collections are generally best retained within the park museum. Park-based collections greatly facilitate research and make it easier to ensure that museum objects are curated according to NPS standards.

2. The Museum of the Rockies. This is a possible alternative for invertebrate and vertebrate fossils. The collections are well managed and the museum in Bozeman is relatively close to Yellowstone.

3. The Midwest Archeological Center. This facility in Lincoln, Nebraska currently has collections of Holocene fauna from Yellowstone that have been evaluated by Ken Cannon and curated in accordance with NPS standards.

4. The Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley. This world-renowned institution employs excellent curators and collections managers.

5. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. This museum, which has historically been considered the primary national repository for fossil collections, holds nearly all of the significant paleobotanical specimens from Yellowstone, including the material described by Knowlton, Dorf's collections, numerous fossil invertebrates collected in the late 1800s, including a few "type" specimens. The consolidation of all Yellowstone paleobotanical research material at the Smithsonian, with a long-term commitment to the collections, would greatly facilitate future research.

As part of the 1996 Paleontological Survey, an intensive search was conducted for Yellowstone specimens in outside repositories and several previously unknown collections were located, including some "type" specimens. (See Appendix F for a list of these collections.) Information on four "type" specimens of fossil plants described by Beyer (1954) indicate that they are still located at the University of Cincinnati. The status and location of these specimens should be confirmed. The Yale Peabody Museum may also have a small collection of Yellowstone fossils, including a large number of fossil brachiopod specimens and possibly the Pleistocene horse Equus nebraskensis (YPM-PU 14673). Paleobotanical specimens collected by William Fritz in association with his research are currently at Georgia State University and a small collection at Montana State University.

According to 36 CFR 2.5, all natural resource objects placed in exhibits or collections must be accessioned and cataloged into the park's museum collection. These collections should be inventoried and any whose current status and location is unknown should be investigated.

Paleontological Resources Near Yellowstone