»  Trilobite Preparation: From Quarry To Display

Trilobite Preparation: From Quarry To Display

Trilobite Preparation: From Quarry To Display

It has been said that Michelangelo once explained his approach to sculpture by stating that he merely freed already-existing pieces of art from their surrounding stone. Certainly in the case of trilobite preparators, such an approach is exactly the technique best utilized to achieve their goal. Perhaps those who work with fossils don't possess the inherent artistic elan of the famed Michelangelo, but when all is said and done, it is they who truly free existing forms from their encasing stone matrix.

Yet for all their apparent skill, the work done by trilobite preparators has only become recognized during relatively recent times. Particularly over the last two decades, things have changed radically within the trilo-prep world. If we venture back to the late 1980s, fossil preparation was still basically an arduous, often haphazard process where acid baths, wire brushes and hand-held dental tools frequently left the resulting trilobite as little more than a bruised-'n-battered remnant. By the dawning of the 21st Century, however, prep work had evolved into a state-of-the-art procedure employing an exotic array of custom made electric drills and air abrasive machines, capable of transforming half a billion year old fossils into nearly flawless specimens, guaranteed to garner admiration from both the scientific and collecting communities.

Many of these “next generation” trilobites now feature delicate free-standing spines-- some no thicker than an eyelash-- and amazingly detailed compound eyes, which make them both a joy to observe and a pleasure to study. Thanks to these recent advances in preparation techniques, trilobites have garnered a new, and perhaps unexpected prestige. Not only do they now possess increased value as scientific specimens, with more detail than ever before being exposed to studious observation, but they have also emerged as beautiful pieces of natural art that have attracted a surprisingly large mainstream audience.

The following pictures illustrate the progression from a “fresh from the quarry” fossil, encased in matrix, to a spectacular museum worthy specimen.

Fresh from the quarry, the pygidium of a rare Acanthopyge from Morocco can barely be seen. The pieces of matrix containing what is hoped to be a complete specimen have been assembled.

Preparation with an air scribe is begun on the hard Devonian limestone revealing part of the pygidium and thorax.

Other pieces of matrix are added to expose more of the trilobite.

An essentially complete trilobite is revealed, though tips of pygidial and genal spines remain covered.

More detailed prep work shows sweeping spines on the pygidium.

Genal spines are uncovered on the cephalon.

The complete specimen... ready for museum display.