By the end of the 20th century the fossil collections at the American Museum of Natural History were indexed by numerous databases that had been saved or worked on by various individuals over the years. These were stand-alone entities, housed for the most part on desktop computers and not accessible to users on-line. Some of these databases linked back to old records, while others were isolated queries.

In 2000, the Division of Paleontology began work to consolidate the various unrelated databases into a single database that could be used for collection management, while providing access to collection data for the wider public and paleontological community via the worldwide web. Initially, efforts were concentrated on the four collection databases that were captured from original catalog data. These four databases were made available on a networked server. Staff access was via a browser-based interface.

The next stage was to create a new data model that would consolidate the four databases into a single database, called Mesonyx, and permit the uploading of image data. The Mesonyx database went live in the spring of 2002. Funding from NASA supported the development of this database, together with a program of specimen imaging that captured over 9,000 specimen images during the lifetime of the grant. These images were uploaded to Mesonyx and made available to users via the web. A JAVA client was developed to enable staff to create and edit records.

In 2006, the Division of Paleontology began working with Whirl-i-Gig, a software development company, on a successor to Mesonyx. Known as PaleoCat, the new system uses secure, browser-based, Apache/PHP-generated interfaces to access a MySQL relational database of 17 data tables. Public access is available via both the Division’s website and the NSF-supported Paleontology Portal website.

We are not distributing the PaleoCat software to other users, but as an alternative you may wish to try CollectiveAccess, a freely-available, open-source collections management application developed by the same group as PaleoCat. While intended for cultural heritage institutions, the software is increasingly used for management of paleontological, geological, and biological data.

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