Rock Discoveries

Preserving Prehistoric Treasures: Cleaning and Caring for Fossil Shells

Cleaning and Preserving Fossil Shells

Fossil shells are some of the most captivating prehistoric relics, giving us glimpses of ancient marine creatures that roamed the seas millions of years ago. Collectors and paleontologists alike often spend hours cleaning and preserving these delicate specimens to bring out their natural beauty and protect them from further damage.

In this article, we’ll discuss the various methods for cleaning, hardening, repairing, and preserving fossil shells.

Hardening Soft Specimens

Soft and fragile specimens require special care when handling and cleaning. Gentle brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush can remove surface debris without damaging the fossil.

However, some specimens may require additional hardening measures to protect them from further damage. A hardener like Duco cement can be used to stabilize fragile shells that are still embedded in a shale matrix.

Care should be taken when using such chemicals, as they can be flammable, and irritants. Eye and face protection should always be worn, and adequate ventilation should be provided.

Cleaning Shell Fossil Specimens

Washing fragile specimens should be done with great care, as water can cause some shells to dissolve or crumble. A gentle wash with clean water and a mild detergent is often the best option for removing debris.

A soft-bristled toothbrush can be used to dislodge any tough-to-remove dirt. Take care not to scrub too hard as this may damage the shell.

Rinsing should be done with clean water and drying done with a soft cloth.

Removing Excess Matrix

Shells can sometimes be embedded in a hard matrix, making them difficult to extract. Its important to proceed slowly and carefully, using proper tools to avoid damaging the shell.

Vinegar water can be used to dissolve the matrix, while bacterial soap solution can remove any remaining debris. Tools such as pliers, hammer, saw, awl, nail, hobby knife, Dremel, and dental drill can all be used to carefully remove the matrix without damaging the shell.

Filling Cracks/Repairing Damage

Sometimes, shells can break or become damaged during extraction or cleaning. Repairing such damage will help to bring out the specimen’s natural beauty and value.

First, broken pieces can be glued together using an appropriate adhesive like epoxy or water putty. Pieces of the shell that are missing can be filled with a mixture of plaster of Paris and cement pigment, which can be molded to match the surrounding shell.

Different opinions exist on whether one should fill missing pieces with a filler, especially if the specimen is a natural specimen.

Preserving the Specimen

Finally, to protect the shell from further damage or deterioration, it’s essential to apply a coating that can safeguard the shell. Coatings should be selected based on the specimen’s natural characteristics, texture, and overall condition.

Some coatings can enhance the shell’s contrast, while others may give it a metallic luster. If a non-glossy finish is desired, an acrylic spray can be applied.

In contrast, a glossy look can be achieved using yellow dextrin, paste wax or petroleum jelly to give the fossil a polished finish. Slate dressing or sun screen lotion can be used for added protection.

Labels identifying the specimen should then be added, and information such as the date, location, and layer of excavation can be noted.

To Bleach or Not to Bleach

In some cases, buried shells may have been exposed to soil, which can cause them to become stained by oils and other substances. While some collectors choose to bleach out these stains to bring out the shell’s natural color, others prefer to maintain a more authentic look.

If you do choose to bleach the shell, a mixture of water and bleach or a gasoline solution can be used. However, bleaching can also damage the shell, and can cause the shell to become brittle over time.

Therefore, a major find may not necessarily require bleaching. In conclusion, preserving fossil shells can be a time-consuming but rewarding process.

Care must be taken when handling and cleaning delicate specimens, and proper tools and methods should always be used to prevent damage. By following these best practices, collectors and paleontologists can continue to enjoy these prehistoric treasures for many years to come.

In conclusion, fossil shell preservation requires great care and attention, from cleaning and hardening to repairing and preserving. Abiding by best practices not only ensures the safekeeping of delicate specimens but also helps unlock the secrets of long-extinct creatures.

To help further, we’ve compiled a list of FAQs below to address common questions and concerns, providing accurate and succinct answers for new and seasoned collectors alike. FAQs:

Q: Can I use household cleaners to clean fossil shells?

A: No, household cleaners can damage the shell and should be avoided. Q: Can I use superglue to repair broken shell pieces?

A: Superglue is not recommended for shell repair, as it can bond the shell strongly, rendering it inflexible and vulnerable to further damage. Q: Should I bleach my oil-stained shells?

A: Bleaching can damage the shell and alter its natural color. It’s not necessary for a major find, and some collectors prefer to maintain an authentic appearance.

Q: What coatings are best for preserving fossil shells? A: The coating choice depends on the shell’s natural characteristics, texture, and overall condition.

Acrylic spray provides a non-glossy look, while paste wax offers a glossy finish. Q: Can I clean embedded shells with harsh chemicals?

A: Harsh chemicals can cause irreparable damage to the shell and are strongly discouraged. A bacterial soap solution is a safer and more effective option.

Q: Do I need to wear protective gear when applying coatings? A: Yes, protective gear such as gloves and masks must be worn when applying coatings to preserve the shell and protect the collector from harmful substances.

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