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Sandy Ebersole


How to label Fossils


When writing on fossil labels, use permanent ink or pencil. India ink and most ballpoint blue inks are stable; most ballpoint black inks spread and redden after a few years. Examples of the kinds of information that should be recorded are as follows:

Name of institution: "Geological Survey of Alabama," "Selma High School," "Collection of Mary Billings."

Name: Genus, species; "Exogyra costata," OR general name such as "bryozoan"

Formation: "Prairie Bluff Chalk, Ripley Formation." Common abbreviations: Formation = Fm., Member = Mbr., Sandstone = Ss., Limestone = Ls., Shale = Sh.

Location: This is the single most important item to record. Abbreviate if necessary, or continue on the back of the label. It is better to use descriptions rather than numbered localities, for example, "Truck stop northeast of junction of I-20/59 and AL 28, Livingston, Sumter Co., AL;" "AL highway 17, 4 mi. N of courthouse, Butler, Choctaw Co., AL;" "Alabama River at US 84 bridge, Monroe Co., AL;" "Jones Bluff, Tombigbee River, Sumter Co., AL."

By convention, "4 miles north of Livingston" means "4 miles north of the CENTER of Livingston," ordinarily measured from the courthouse or the most central road intersection. Do not use it to mean "4 miles north of the Livingston city limits," which can change from year to year.

Always describe the location in terms that someone could understand many years from now. Avoid measuring distances from gas stations, groceries, or mile markers (which change every time the road is straightened). Do measure distances from relatively permanent landmarks such as churches, post offices, centers of bridges, and road intersections.

Collector: Can use initials if many specimens have the same collector. Make sure that at least some labels have the full name.

Date: Date of collection.

Field no.: The number (if any) written on the bag or specimen at the time of collection. This varies from person to person, though most people precede the number with their initials to avoid confusion. Commonly used methods include:

(1) Sequential for a lifetime: "1, 2, 3, ..." Simple, but better keep track of the last number you used!

(2) Sequential for each year: "97-1, 97-2, 97-3, ..." Even very active geologists rarely use more than about 300 field numbers in a year. Again, keep track!

(3) Coded by date. The third method uses the date the sample was collected, such as August 6, 1997, which would be coded as 97-8-6-1. This makes for a longer number, but the date need not be written twice on the bag, and there is no need to look up the last number.

More complex methods than these usually fail.

Catalog no.: The final number (if any) accompanying the washed and labeled specimen in the school museum or other collection is the catalog number. Paper labels are easily lost. Catalog numbers can be written directly on large specimens with a rapidograph using India ink.