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Invertebrate Paleontology Department

Collection Policies

Collections Management Policy


The Department Head and staff are responsible to the Director for the prudent management as accepted by national museum community standards of all collections of invertebrate fossils held by the Museum. This document provides the necessary policies to achieve this management for the collections of responsibility. The contents of this policy will be reviewed by the Department Staff every three years. Recommendations to the Museum Director should be made if changes are required, goal adjustments needed or problems perceived. If the recommendations are accepted the Policy will be emended.

Statement of Purpose, Scope & Goals

The Department accrues, prepares for study, houses, maintains, conserves and establishes and maintains records of specimens of invertebrate fossils in accordance with levels of access, security and availability accepted by the community of natural history museums and under general operating standards set by the office of the Director. Collections of fossils are uniquely important because Paleontology is a historical science. Nearly all specimens in the collection represent species that are extinct. The specimens are incomplete and usually rare in terms of today's faunas. The specimens constitute an important part of the world's museum base on which all descriptive, systematic, interpretive and theoretical studies must eventually revert for testing. The Departmental scope is a microcosm of several departments with systematic collections in having the responsibility for the collections of all invertebrate phyla and subgroups, with the exception of the insects and arachnids, as represented in the geologic past. Approximately one million specimens constitute a broad array of phyla ranging from early pre-Cambrian to post-Pleistocene in age. The geographic range is worldwide. The collections are particularly noted for the large percentage of specimens from localities outside of North America. There is no intent to confine any expansion of the collections to lessen geographic, stratigraphic or taxonomic diversity.

The collections are for use by professional research paleontologists, scholars and, through limited educational and exhibition programs, the general public. Harvard University students involved with the curatorial staff are considered an integral part of the Department. All users of the collections are offered freedom of access to specimens within standard museum security and specimen handling etiquette. The collections are organized in ways to aid taxonomic and stratigraphic retrieval of specimens with particular attention to secure irreplaceable type specimens and other specimens of known historical and monetary value.

The collection represents one of the oldest systematic invertebrate paleontological collections in North America and ranks among the ten most important in the Western Hemisphere. It excels in the number of European specimens from many localities, the post-Cambrian trilobites, Paleozoic through Tertiary cephalopods, and Tertiary mollusks. There is also notable strength of both numbers and diversity in the brachiopods, Paleozoic corals and some material from Konservat-Lagerstatten localities.

The Department is staffed by Curators drawn from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of the University and by a professional collection staff responsible to the curators for the management of the collections.

One of the Department's priorities at present is the complete reorganization of the collections and their management, which will allow increased accessibility for research, increased security and accountability along with development of an updated cataloging system utilizing electronic data processing. This plan well underway. It is expected that 8-10 years will be needed to develop, carry out and fine-tune the reorganization. Potential growth through staff collecting, purchase and particularly student collecting for thesis work can be expected to be strong over the next decade.