In many cases, vertebrate fossils lying on storage shelves are in danger of falling
to pieces - whether it is from ancient glues and hardeners, ambient vibration, or
handling. Many methods have been tried to reduce the wear and tear on specimens, though
few seem to fully protect them. The Smithsonian Institution has developed a multi-step
process of protecting fossil vertebrates with foam-padded, plaster jackets made of
hydrocal gypsum cement, surmat fiberglass cloth, and ethafoam padding. Custom-fit,
two-piece jackets with handles and feet on both sides that bolt together are created
to fully encase the specimens. These enable a person to lift off a side, fully examine
one side of even the most delicate specimen, and then flip it over to examine the
other side. This eliminates excessive handling, and reduces the chances for breakage.
An active program has been implemented to jacket all of the Smithsonian’s vertebrate
paleo speci-mens. So far, many of the titanothere skulls, toothed and baleen whale
skulls, Plesippus skulls, Teleoceros skulls, turtle shells and sauropod bones have
been jacketed. Many jacketed bones have already been safely shipped to our Museum
Support Center storage facility in Suitland, Mary-land, with more of the collections
targeted for jacketing and relocation.