Securing the Fossil

Preview Smithsonian scientists apply a plaster bandage cap to a block of rock containing fossils
(Jorge Velez-Juarbe)

Paeleobiologist Dr. Nicholas Pyenson, Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals for the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), set out with Jorge Velez-Juarbe, NMNH Research Student and Ph. D. Candidate at Howard University and Aaron O'Dea from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on an expedition in Panama to excavate a squalodontid, commonly referred to as a shark-toothed dolphin, in June 2011.

After several hours of non-stop digging, the researchers have exposed a deep trench around the skull to begin applying a bigger plaster bandage cap around the block of rock containing the fossils. They use medial plaster bandages which consist of fabric already dipped in plaster -- this way they only have to add water to initiate the hardening process. The team applied around five layers of bandages to the entire surface; creating a cap around the block.

Watch a time-lapse video of the dig, peruse a slideshow, and read Dr. Pyenson's account of the Panama expedition on the Ocean Portal Paleobiology Blog.