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Forest Service, School of Mines Collaberate on Passport In Time

Courtesy SDSM&T

The South Dakota School of Mines is teaming up with the US Forest Service to clean, prepare and catalogue fossils collected over 30 years. The collaboration is part of the the Passport in Time Project, a conservation program intended to find and preserve paleontological and archeological specimens on federal land.

Dr. Barbara Beasley is one of only two paleontologists working for the Forest Service.  She works out of Chadron and manages paleontological projects in the northern half of the United States. 

She says she has been working on Passport in Time projects since 1998.

Beasley says these projects would normally consist of a week in the field and a week in the lab, but budget constraints and a backlog on collections create an opportunity to clean and catalogue previous finds.  She says School of mines provides a lot of support.

“It’s just amazing that we can come in and they allow us to take over the facility for three weeks,” says Beasley.

Archy Archuleta is one of the volunteers on the project.  He is cleaning and preparing specimens from older projects for cataloging and display. He says he wasn’t formally trained in paleontology before coming onto the project in 2009. 

Archuleta says he has been interested in paleontology since childhood and he enjoys working in the field being able to find fossils and work with pieces of Earth’s history.

“A moment that sinks in, is when you’re touching it and feeling it and holding it and saying – you know – ‘You’re the first human being that’s ever touched that thing,’” says Archuleta.

Archuleta says cleaning fossils is an intensive process and it is good to have this opportunity to catch up on backlogged samples.

Kayleigh Johnson is the Lab Manager and Preparator at the School of Mines.  She trains the Forest Service crews on safe lab procedures, techniques and documentation. She says this her first year working with the PIT project.

She says she appreciates seeing the lab full and being used in its capacity as a preparation space.  She says new people coming every week add valuable insight to advance the science of fossil preparation.

“You have all of these new people coming in and – you know – sometimes the people that are the least experienced have the greatest ideas,” says Johnson.

Johnson says Mines is one of only two repositories in the nation for forest service collections. She says once the collections are prepared they are curated, cataloged and made available to the public to aid in ongoing research efforts.