INVERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGY AT CARNEGIE MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
For more than a century, staff and scientific colleagues in support of the Section of Invertebrate Paleontology acquired strategic paleontological, stratigraphic and geologic specimens to conduct research, enhance museum exhibits, and promote public science literacy. The section’s core research endeavors are driven by the paleontological disciplines of the staff, research associates, and potential new research uncovered in the collections and in the field.
History of Invertebrate Paleontology
Before the period of established natural history museums of the 19th century, fossil collecting was generally accomplished by gentleman farmers and naturalists. The discipline of invertebrate paleontology evolved from the study of biology and geology in the late 18th century. The early 19th century saw collecting of invertebrate fossils from strata throughout Europe and Russia. In England, William Smith, a canal engineer working in the County Oxfordshire, worked out the occurances between fossils and strata through deductive reasoning, that culminated in his 1815 publication of the first color geologic map. The contents of Smith’s map are an interpretation of how fossils can be used to correlate with strata, later known as biostratigraphy. This hypothesis led to the formation of the geologic disciplines of stratigraphy and historical geology. Smith’s geologic map was valued by 19th century geologists, paleontologists, and biologists including Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin. Smith’s map helped in moving forward the naming of the first geologic period – the Carboniferous Period in 1822. Eventually, all 12 geologic time periods were named for the prime fossil bearing strata the Phanerozoic Eon.
Invertebrate Paleontology Collection
In 1903, Andrew Carnegie purchased the 130,000 invertebrate fossil collection from the Baron de Bayet of Brussels, Belgium, the largest single acquisition in the section’s history. At the time, European paleontologists, particularly those from Belgium and the Netherlands, considered the Bayet collection to be the best private fossil collection, “this great paleontological collection can never be duplicated in all the world, and there will be no place outside of Pittsburg where scientists can study the whole range of prehistoric fossil life” (The Atlanta Constitution, 9 August, 1903). In the New York Times, June 11, 1903, Dr. Holland says, paleontologists have long regarded the De Bayet Collection as the best outside of the great museums of Europe, and there is nothing in America at present to equal it. In 1911, at the invitation of William J. Holland, Director of the Carnegie Museum, Dr. Franz X. Schaffer, the noted Austrian Curator of the Imperial Austrian Museum and Professor of Geology of the Imperial University at Vienna, came to the museum to study the Bayet fossil collection. Dr. Schaffer said this, “the Baron Bayet collection of fossils, is the largest and most complete private collection every secured by any museum” (Pittsburgh Daily Post, 25 March 1911). Innokenty L. Tolmachoff, the section’s second curator, noted in an unpublished autobiography, considered the Bayet collection to be the finest in all of Europe when he visited Brussels in the 1890’s. Holland understood the importance in 1903, that in order to curate such a large collection, it was necessary to hire Dr. Percy E. Raymond as the first curator in invertebrate paleontology.
The Bayet collection incorporates both invertebrates (most specimens) with vertebrates and botany specimens primarily from the Phanerozoic of European topotype localities. The Bayet collection is one of the most scientifically valuable in the history of the Carnegie Museum that has been studied, exhibited, and used in education instruction for more than a century. For examples, in the museum’s DITT hall, Bayet fossils constitute the Triassic of Germany and Lyme Regis of England, the Jurassic Holzmaden and Solnhofen of Germany, and the Cretaceous of Montana marine dioramas. The collection consists of Fossil Lagerstätten biota from the Hunsruck Slate, Posidonienschiefer, Holzmaden Shale, and Solnhofen Limestone of Germany, and Monte Bolca Limestone of Italy.
Bayet purchased fossils from individual collectors during the late 19th century that represents the type or topotype localities in Austria, Belgium, Yugoslavia (Croatia and Slovenia), Bohemia (Czech Republic), France, Germany, England, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. The collection is composed of 48% Paleozoic Era, 37% Mesozoic Era, and 15% Cenozoic Era fossils. The section has a three-year funding project to re-catalog and reorganize the entire Bayet collection. Joann Wilson and Albert D. Kollar of the Section of Invertebrate Paleontology are investigating the history of the 19th century collectors who sold their collections to Bayet. Our discoveries are being reported online in the museum blog posts.
From 1905 to 2020, the section built the collection of 800,000 thousand specimens from field work by curatorial staff and research associates, purchases, exchanges, and donations. The geologic eras of the total collection are 55% Paleozoic, 33% Mesozoic, and 12% Cenozoic. In the United States the dominant collections are from the Appalachian Basin, mid-continent, high Plains, and northern Rockies.
There are 5400 primary types, figured and illustrated specimens, published in 400 peer-reviewed, field guidebooks, and professional journals. Accessions total 1350 documented in 6500 stratigraphic localities, and 60,000 catalog numbers. See graphs on collection growth from 1897 to 2020.
Significant collections for research include the Bayet European topotype localities, Cambrian/Ordovician and Permian/Carboniferous trilobites from the U.S., late Devonian and lower Mississippian brachiopods from the mid-continent, southwest, and northern Rockies, Mississippian gastropods from northcentral Iowa, Upper Devonian glass sponges from western New York, Carboniferous reef faunas from south-central and the northern Rockies, and the Mesozoic and Cenozoic age Decapod crustaceans.
Percy E. Raymond (1904 – 1910). The first curator of Invertebrate Paleontology received his Ph. D from Yale University under Professor Charles Schuchert. Raymond was a specialist in Ordovician trilobites, brachiopods, and gastropods and collected fossils from strata in New York, Vermont and Ontario, Canada. He named the Chazyan geologic stage for a mid-Ordovician Reef Complex that occurs throughout this region. In the summer of 1905, he participated with Earl Douglas of the Carnegie’s Vertebrate Paleontology Department on a Carnegie Museum sponsored field collecting expedition to the northern Rockies. Raymond collected Ordovician age nautiloid cephalopods from Minnesota, and late Cretaceous Pierre Shale ammonites, Carboniferous brachiopods and trilobites from the Gravelly Range and Devonian age faunas from the Three Forks Shale, all from southwestern Montana. In western Pennsylvania, he first reported on Pennsylvanian age marine fossils from the Vanport Limestone and vertebrate fossils from the Pittsburgh “redbeds” in Pitcairn, Pennsylvania. Raymond resigned from the museum in 1910. After which, he donated middle Cambrian Burgess Shale fossils from the famous Raymond Quarry on Mount Burgess in British Columbia.
The section’s second curator, Innokenty Pavlovich Tolmachoff (1922 – 1945) received his degrees from the University of Leipzig, the University of Munich, and his Ph. D from St. Petersburg in Russia. Tolmachoff was a well-respected Tertiary micro paleontologist and museum curator in Russia. He authored a landmark publication in 1924 on the Carboniferous fauna of the Kuznets Basin in the Urals Mountains, naming the brachiopod Productus robustus. In 1933, the Carboniferous brachiopod genus Tolmatchoffia was named by Georgii Nikolaevich Frederiks in his honor. As curator, he added several important sponge and coral collections from the Devonian of western New York and central Iowa respectively, Mississippian brachiopods from southwestern Pennsylvania, and Tertiary micro-fossils from Brazil. Tolmachoff served as professor of paleontology and lectured in geography at the University of Pittsburgh from 1928 until his retirement in 1945. In 1949, Tolmachoff published, Siberian Passage – An Explorer’s Search into the Russian Arctic.
The section’s third curator, Eugene R. Eller (1945 – 1970), was a student of Tolmachoff at the University of Pittsburgh. Eller led the creation and building of the museum’s Paleozoic Hall that opened in 1965. *The hall permanently closed in 1998. Eller was instrumental in the excavation and exhibiting the giant eurypterid trackway discovered in Elk County, PA, that has now received research by museum staff (Harper, Kollar, & Hughes) (Brezinski & Kollar).
Eller collected and published on the Silurian age scolecodonts or fossil worm jaws used during the 1940’s and 1950’s for biostratigraphy correlation in the oil industry subsurface analysis. Later in his career, Ellen published on late Devonian horseshoe crabs from western New York and northeastern Pennsylvania.
The fourth curator, John L. Carter (1972 – 1999), was a professor of geology and paleontology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign before arriving at the Carnegie Museum. Carter received his Ph. D at the University of Cincinnati under Kenneth Caster and G. Arthur Cooper of the Smithsonian Institution. Dr. Carter developed the section’s modern methods for curation and computerization arranging the collections systematically, stratigraphically, and organizing a separate primary type collection. The greatest period of collection growth in the history of the section was under Carter’s tenure advancing collaborations by adding Research Associates from the University of Pittsburgh, Kent State University, West Virginia University, the Pennsylvania Geological Survey and Maryland Geological Survey. Carter was an international expert on Lower Carboniferous brachiopod taxonomy and biostratigraphy naming more than 120 new species, published in two monographs, and dozens of peer-reviewed papers. In 2006, he was a contributing author on the Order Spiriferida of the Treatise of Invertebrate Paleontology on Brachiopoda.
Publications on Section Taxonomic Strengths, Types Specimens, and Rankings
Research publications on the section collections cover all the major phyla over Phanerozoic time. Several noteworthy phyla include Paleozoic trilobites, Mesozoic and Cenozoic crustaceans, lower Carboniferous brachiopods, Paleozoic gastropods, Paleozoic cephalopods, Paleozoic ophiuroids, and Pennsylvanian age eurypterids. The section also has more than 12,000 primary types and figured specimens—the largest type holdings at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The section’s collections were ranked based upon paleontologists’ reviewers in the systematic and stratigraphic fields. A number of the section’s collections were ranked number one in North America for research value at a museum:
- Late Paleozoic Trilobites from the United States
- Solnhofen Limestone Invertebrates from Germany
- Upper Devonian Glass Sponges from Western New York
- Silurian and Devonian Scolecodonts from the United States and Sweden
- Carboniferous Reef Faunas from the South Central and the Northern Rockies
- Gilmore City Formation (Hodges Quarry) Invertebrates
The Lower Carboniferous Brachiopods from Central and Southwestern United States as well as the Decapod Crustaceans were ranked number two in North America for research value. The Bear Gulch Limestone Invertebrates from Montana were ranked number three, and the Cambrian Trilobites of the North-Central Appalachian Basin were ranked number five.
Section of Invertebrate Paleontology Collection Featured in Museum Displays
Benedum Hall of Geology includes the type specimen of a Pennsylvanian Age giant eurypterid trackway from Elk County, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvanian Age marine fossils from the regional fossil sites of the Ames Limestone and Brush Creek Limestone, and Mississippian Age brachiopods from Missouri. In the Mesozoic Age Dinosaurs in Their Time, invertebrate fossils are represented in the Triassic diorama from Germany, the Jurassic of Lyme Regis, England, Holzmaden and Solnhofen of southern Germany, and Late Cretaceous of Montana and South Dakota.
Meet the Researchers
Collection Assistant &
Research Graphic Artist
E. KEVIN LOVE
Invertebrate Paleontology Blogs
Behind the Scenes with the Baron de Bayet and L. W. Stilwell Collection, Part 4: Buying and Selling Fossils in the 19th CenturyIn this, our fourth and final installment, we will look at the Stilwell-Bayet letters. Because letter writing was the central form of …
Behind the Scenes with the Baron de Bayet and L. W. Stilwell Collection, Part 2: The Wild West a Century AgoFancy yourself on the hottest day in summer in the hottest spot of such a place without water — without an animal …
Behind the Scenes with the Baron de Bayet and L. W. Stilwell Collection, Part 1: Crossing the Atlantic with a Boatload of FossilsWhy did a wealthy European baron seek out a Dakota Territories fossil dealer in the winter of 1889? This post is …
The Giant Eurypterid Trackway: A Great Fossil Discovery on Display in the Carnegie Museum of Natural HistoryFigure 1. When museum patrons enter Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Benedum Hall of Geology, they encounter a one-ton block of coarse …
- Figure 1: Accession #6163, Donated By Major J.P. Young What could have inspired someone to arrive at the Carnegie Institute, on a …
- Figure 1: CM 5881 Trilobite (Isotelus maximus) with “smoke” Figure 2: Same …
- Fig. 1: Irish Dippy Each March in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, the full-size dinosaur replica of Dippy (Diplodocus carnegii) that stands …
- In the fall of 2018, Albert D. Kollar and John A. Harper (volunteer and research associate) of the Section of Invertebrate Paleontology …
Citizen Science, The Last Ice Age in Western Pennsylvania and Carnegie Museum of Natural History ExhibitsRecent education initiatives in the Section of Invertebrate Paleontology encourage citizen science collaborations among professional geological societies to elevate the value of …