Invertebrate Paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History
For more than a century, staff and colleagues in the Section of Invertebrate Paleontology acquired strategic paleontological and stratigraphic collections to conduct research, enhance museum exhibits, and promote science literacy. The section’s core research is based on the paleontological interest of the curators and the scientific periods in which they were educated.
History of Invertebrate Paleontology
Before the modern period of natural history museums, 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 in England by William Smith that culminated in the 1815 publication of his 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 idea helped to develop the geologic disciplines of stratigraphy and historical geology. Smith’s geologic map was valued by early 19th century paleontologists and geologists who were conducting research and needed to identify rock strata. The naming of the geologic periods soon followed, establishing what geologists call the geologic time scale.
The first curator of Invertebrate Paleontology, Percy E. Raymond (1904–1910), made extensive collections of Ordovician trilobites, brachiopods, gastropods, and cephalopods from New York, Ontario, Vermont, and Minnesota. His research specialty was in lower Paleozoic trilobites. Raymond conducted some of the earliest field collecting and research of vertebrates and invertebrate fossils in western Pennsylvania. In 1905, he collected extensively from the Carboniferous and Cretaceous of Montana. The year before Raymond became curator, the Baron de Bayet collection of 130,000 fossils arrived from Belgium. Over the next six years, Raymond began the process of collection management of the Bayet collection and organized the section’s specimen catalogs.
The second curator, Innokenty Pavlovich Tolmachoff (1922–1945), collected Paleozoic stratigraphic fossils from the United States. Tolmachoff was also a professor of paleontology in the Geology Department at the University of Pittsburgh, where several of his students collected and published on the section’s collection. His research specialty was in tertiary microfossils from the Carboniferous of Urals.
The third curator, Eugene R. Eller (1945–1970), collected and published on the Silurian Age scolecodonts or fossil worm jaws. Later in his career, Eller worked on Devonian arthropods. His research specialty was in Paleozoic scolecodonts and horseshoe crabs.
The fourth curator, John L. Carter (1972–1999), was an international expert on Lower Carboniferous brachiopods taxonomy and biostratigraphy. In 2006, Carter was a contributing author of the Treatise of Invertebrate Paleontology on brachiopods. During his 27 years at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Carter led the section to its greatest period of collection growth, adding hundreds of thousands of new specimens.
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.
The Invertebrate Paleontology Collection and Localities
The first significant fossil collection of the section arrived in 1903 when Andrew Carnegie, the founder of Carnegie Museum of Natural History, purchased 130,000 fossil specimens from Baron de Bayet of Belgium. The Bayet fossil collection is one of the most scientifically valuable collections in the history of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Many of the Bayet specimens are exceptionally preserved and are exhibited in the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous dioramas in Dinosaurs in Their Time.
The Bayet specimens were acquired over several decades during the latter half of the 19th century from the classic Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic geologic and paleontological localities of Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. Many Bayet specimens were collected from what is now known as Fossil Lagerstatten, which means exceptional preservation. Examples include the Devonian Hunsruck Shale of Germany, the Jurassic Posidonia Shale and Solnhofen of Germany, and the Eocene Monte Bolca of Italy.
The section has close to three-quarters of a million fossils. Because of the special interest in the Paleozoic Era fossils by the section’s four curators and the central location of Carnegie Museum Natural History within the Appalachian Basin, the Paleozoic Era fossils make up almost half the collection. The Paleozoic fossils are predominately from the United States and classic sections in western Europe. Thirty-seven percent of the section’s collection is Mesozoic age from the classic geologic sections of Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, and England. Additional Neogene fossils from the United States were added from mid-Atlantic states and classic Gulf coastal states of Florida and Alabama.
Scientists who have helped to grow the section holdings for research over the decades are David K. Brezinski, John A. Harper, Rodney M. Feldmann, Carrie E. Schweitzer, John Anderson, Arthur Gerk, Alan Saltsman, Thomas Kammer, Percy Train, H.H. White, Dan Sass, Darwin Boardman, E.B. Hall, Carroll Lane Fenton, Mildred Adams Fenton, and H.B. Rollins.
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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.