Discovering Texas Fossils
Who we are
The University of Texas hosts one of the largest museum collections of fossils in the United States, including some of the biggest animals that ever lived (like the giant dinosaurs Alamosaurus and Tyrannosaurus), as well as some of the very smallest (like tiny rodent teeth). Our researchers work on specimens from every continent, and our holdings represent more than 125 years of field collecting. Over this time, many of our most important discoveries have been found and studied by students as part of their graduate and undergraduate training. The research that they have conducted and the collections that they have built form the foundation for a better understanding of the history of life on Earth.
Fossils are often excavated from the field in large plaster and burlap "jackets" full of bone and rock. Before the bones can be studied, they must be removed from their jackets and stabilized. Each jacket requires many hours of effort to open and excavate in the laboratory. Then, each freshly prepared bone must be very carefully cataloged and organized so that they are available for education and research. As a result, hundreds of jackets remain unopened in our museum facilities, and many important discoveries must wait to be made.
As part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal program during the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration put hundreds of Texans to work prospecting for fossils. Between 1939 and 1941, the WPA program visited 26 counties and collected tens of thousands of fossils, and they represent a treasure trove of research and educational potential. Undergraduate students working under the supervision of laboratory staff will excavate fossils from the rock within these jackets and prepare them for research: cleaning and reassembling them, and creating custom archival cradles to house the specimens in the Jackson School museum collections. Students will work with the collections manager to number, database, and label the specimens so that they remain available for researchers and classes who wish to use them.
We invite you to help us continue our ongoing efforts to preserve, study, and exhibit these important fossil collections.
Donations to this project support several undergraduate students as they prepare and house Texas fossils and receive training in museum processes, paleontology, and outreach. Donations will also fund the purchase of museum quality cabinetry and shelving, storage materials, and laboratory supplies. These fossils are an important part of the heritage of Texans, both as part of our natural history, and the history of the state. Our team will start in the spring semester of 2016.