SwissCollNet si impegna a migliorare l'accessibilità delle collezioni di storia naturale. Una visione comune e una strategia a lungo termine promuoveranno l'uso delle collezioni di storia naturale per la ricerca, l'insegnamento e la società.

Immagine: OscarLoRo, stock.adobe.com

Paleontology

Conservation, digital recording and documentation of the historically important palaeontological collection in Winterthur
Sandra Scherrer (Nature Museum Winterthur)

The more than 150 years old paleontological collection of the Naturmuseum Winterthur consists of a large number of objects whose significance is hidden from science today. The collection includes local fossils from the molasse of Winterthur, including scientifically very relevant reference specimens. Other important objects are fossil plants from Öhningen and Jurassic reptiles from southern Germany. The first goal of this project is the complete registration of selected parts of the collection by digitization (including imaging). First priority is not to re-determinate, but to systematically record and document potentially important parts of the collection in order to make relevant objects fully available for the scientific community. The data obtained will be published. Some specimens in our historical collection are in urgent need of restoration. Our second goal is to preserve these objects for the future. This project enables extensive restoration work on important fossils. In a third part of the project, details of the discovery or acquisition history of individual specimens will be obtained from the handwritten manuscripts in the archives of the Sammlung Winterthur (Winterthurer Bibliotheken). The three parts of this project will enable our collection to be preserved, documented and used for research in the future.

Upgrade of regional paleontological MGL specimens to the SVNHC standards
Robin Marchant (Cantonal Museum of zoology), Bastien Mennecart (Naturhistorisches Museum Basel)

Digitisation of our regional palaeontological collections

Although visitors are familiar with the highlights of our palaeontology exhibition, such as the exceptional mammoth and dodo skeletons, they are often unaware that they represent only a small part of our collections. The main task of a science museum, like ours, is to preserve reference collections, regardless of their aesthetic or educational value. Thus our palaeontological collections are full of rock and fossil specimens that might seem insignificant to the uninformed public.

When a palaeontologist discovers a new fossil species, he or she must publish a detailed description of it and mention in which museum he or she has deposited his or her reference specimens, called "types" in scientific jargon. These types can then be consulted by other specialists working on similar species.

The Cantonal Geological Museum in Lausanne was one of the first institutions in French-speaking Switzerland to preserve scientific collections, mainly from the canton of Vaud and neighbouring regions, but also from abroad. The Museum houses collections of worldwide importance, such as the flora of the Tertiary Era described for the first time in deposits of the Vaud molasse.

This SwissCollNet project will make it possible to enter the characteristics of our regional palaeontological specimens in a database accessible to all.

Digital curation: preserving the world's largest dinosaur track collection
Jérémy Anquetin (Jurassica Museum, Porrentruy)

Some 150 million years ago, the Jura Mountains were a carbonate platform sprinkled with low-lying islands and muddy beaches. Hordes of dinosaurs occasionally travelled through the area leaving footprints behind them, some of which eventually got fossilized.

The best place to study dinosaur tracks in the Jura is indubitably the Courtedoux plateau near Porrentruy (JU, Switzerland). Large-scale excavations carried out during the construction of the A16 Transjurane highway led to the discovery of one of the largest assemblages of dinosaur track sites in the world (over 14'000 tracks and 660 trackways). For about 16 years, the "Paléontologie A16" project (PAL A16; funded by the Federal Roads Office and Republic and Canton of Jura) meticulously documented the tracks in situ (measurements, photographs, orthophotos, vectorized track surfaces, 3D models), but also uniquely collected around 700 track-bearing slabs of limestone and 150 casts of trackways.

This collection of national and international importance is now curated by the JURASSICA Museum in Porrentruy. The aim of the present project is to make it digitally available for the public and researchers globally. It is subdivided into three parts consisting in the 3D digitization of the dinosaur tracks in the collection, the development of a Data Portal, and the sorting, preparation, and integration of the dinosaur track data into the Data Portal for online access.

Digitization of fossil reference objects in natural history collections
Loïc Costeur (Natural History Museum Basel), Lionel Cavin (Natural History Museum Basel), Ursula Menkveld (Natural History Museum Geneva), Gabriel Aguirre Fernandez (Palaeontological institute und Museum Zürich), Antoine Pictet (Cantonal Museum of geology, Lausanne), Silvan Thüring (Nature Museum Solothurn), Thierry Malvesy (Natural History Museum Neuchâtel), Sandra Scherrer (Nature Museum Winterthur), Olivier Maridet (Jurassica Museum, Porrentruy), Rudolf Stockar (Natural History Museum Lugano), Christian Püntener (Natural Histroy Museum Fribourg)

Museum’s collections host the primary source of taxonomic knowledge, the holotypes that act as reference objects for the definition of species. Since they have to be consulted for comparative studies and description of new organisms, they are deposited in our public institutions where full access is granted.

Swiss collection-bearing institutions often have more than 150 years of existence with ongoing research, gather millions of fossil specimens together, and are thus prime repositories for holotypes, and relevant reference specimens. Hundreds of scientists from all over the world visit Swiss institutions because of this exceptionally dense and, over centuries, constant collection policy.

With an estimate of +10’500 holotypes and reference specimens of fossil vertebrate, invertebrate or single-celled species, Swiss institutions can contribute to our knowledge of past and present diversity through the availability of this comparative resource.

Most of these specimens, despite being of high importance to the scientific community, are not properly digitized. The vast majority has not been imaged, or is even not yet digitally processed in a proper collection management system. Imaging and digitizing these specimens appear as a primary task to make them fully available to the community. Our project offers to photograph, surface-scan, CT-scan them, and mobilize their information in the Swiss Virtual Natural History Collection following international databasing standards.

Digital documentation of the famous Glarus Fossils from the Landesplattenberg Engi
Roland Müller (Natural sciences collections Glarus), Christian Klug (Paleontological Institute and Museum, Zürich), Sandra Scherrer (Nature Museum Winterthur), Florian Dammeyer (Natural History Museum Basel, Departement of Geosciences and Osteology), Thomas Buckingham (UNESCO - World Heritage Swiss Tectonic Arena, Sardona), Matthias Meier (Nature Museum St. Gallen), Ursula Menkveld-Gfeller (Natural History Museum Bern)

The Glarus fossils are known all around the world and distributed amongst dozens of institutions, museums and collections. First written documentation in which the fossils are found, dates back to 1279. The slates, in which the Glarus fossils are found, are a dark rock which were industrially mined until 1961. They were used primarily as roofing material, writing- and wallboards. Early records of fossil documentation date back to Johann Jakob Scheuchzer from 1708. Most of the approximately 3000 specimens found are bony fishes, whilst the most famous and rare ones are three specimens of a turtle and two of a bird. We have records of approx 2200 specimens in Swiss Collections from which 1150 specimens of Glarus fossils are key elements of international importance in the Glarus collection. Taxonomy and descriptions of the specimens have been worked on for dozens of years in Glarus and by external institutions with several experts. Nevertheless, the Glarus fossils have not been systematically photographed and documented in a common accessible digital database. This project aims to change this by creating a digital library and homogeneous description for the Glarus Fossils spread all across Switzerland.

The Roth Collections—from splendid isolation to fossils for all
Gabriel Aguirre-Fernandez (University of Zürich), Lionel Cavin (Natural History Museum Geneva), Loïc Costeur (Natural History Museum Basel)

South America hosts remarkable endemic animals such as armadillos and sloths. Their extinct relatives were even more astonishing; the magnificent glyptodon and the elephant-sized ground sloth at the Zoological and Palaeontological Museum in Zurich are extremely popular among the 140,000 visitors a year. Exceptional fossils of these extinct animals were among the 600 shipped by the Swiss-born naturalist Santiago Roth, who emigrated to Argentina in 1866 and became a leading paleontologist, gathering collections of international interest. Two large and historically-important collections are held in Geneva and Zurich and remain largely unknown despite their exceptional value. Curators from Zurich, Geneva, and Basel are teaming up to “revive” these important collections and unleash their international relevance. Our work includes curation (fixing broken fossils, removing old resins) and digitization (creating photos and virtual models). Anyone, from researchers in distant places to passionate kids will have online access to images and 3D models of these exuberant animals. Databasing is fundamental: rich information is only available on paper and needs to be transferred to electronic format. Available information needs to be revised and updated, as our understanding of these fossils has drastically changed since the last serious revision performed in 1920. This treasure trove of information will culminate with a thematic scientific publication and a special museum exhibit.

Digitisation of cave bear remains from five cave sites in Eastern Switzerland
Martina Pacher (Nature museum St. Gallen), Birgit Langenegger (Museum Appenzell), Ueli Rehsteiner (Bündner Nature Museum), Roland Müller (Natural sciences collections Glarus)

The Naturmuseum St. Gallen keeps cave bear remains from the well-known cave sites Drachenloch (SG), Wildkirchli (AI), and Wildenmannloch (SG) excavated in several campaigns between 1903 and 1927 by Emil Bächler and his team. This collection is not only of a high scientific interest, but also of a high historical value, since the three caves were the first high Alpine sites yielding Ice Age faunal remains and human artifacts. Nonetheless, a small percentage has ever been studied. More than 100 years after its recovery, the precious collection of Emil Bächler will finally become available to the scientific community, which also values the effort of the excavators at the beginning of the 20th century.

The more recently excavated caves Apollohöhle (GR) and Geissbachhöhle (GL) are included in the project. All specimens from the five sites in Eastern Switzerland will be cleaned and consolidated (where necessary), inventoried and digitized in an uniform way according to modern standards.

This project is an important and timely contribution to meet the scientific and historical importance of high Alpine cave sites in understanding climate conditions and human development during the Ice Age. Assemblages will finally be easily comparable, may serve as basis for further cooperation on the interface between palaeontology and archaeology and contribute to the global availability and importance of the Ice Age fauna collections held in Switzerland.

Rediscovery the collections of a pioneer of Swiss Paleontology: François-Jules Pictet
Lionel Cavin (Natural History Museum Geneva)

François-Jules Pictet (1809-1872) was a famous Geneva paleontologist of international renown. He has published numerous monographs on fossils from Switzerland and other countries. His important paleontological collection is kept at the Natural History Museum of Geneva (MHNG). It contains many type specimens regularly studied by researchers. The project aims to re-identify two important groups of fossils from the Pictet collection, the ammonites by Antoine Pictet from the musée cantonal de géologie in Lausanne and the fishes by Lionel Cavin, MHNG. Important specimens will be photographed and new data will integrate the MHNG database (Specify) and the Swiss Virtual Collection of Natural History (SVNHC). In parallel, lists of specimens published in old articles edited by the Revue de Paléobiologie will be scanned and then exported to Specify by Alexis Beck (MHNG). This project will significantly increase the scientific and heritage value of the Pictet collection and will make important information available to the community. It will also contribute to the future identification of other collections associated with that of Pictet (Campiche, Renevier, Humbert, Roux, Gaudin, de La Harpe, de Loriol) kept in other Swiss institutions.

Anwil fossil collection, excavation 2014: Identification and digitisation of the material of three museums.
Ursula Menkveld-Gfeller (Natural History Museum Bern), Saskia Klaassen (Archaeology and Museum Baselland in Liestal), Walter Etter (Natural History Museum Basel), Bernhard Hostettler (Natural History Museum Bern), Eva A. Bischof (Natural History Museum Bern), Loïc Costeur (Natural History Museum Basel)

The rust red fossils that can be discovered with a little luck in the freshly harrowed fields in Anwil (BL) have been known since the 19th century. However, the Middle Jurassic strata (Bathonian/Callovian), from which the fossils originate, are not naturally exposed anywhere.

Therefore, the two Natural History Museums of Bern (NMBE) and Basel (NMBE) and Archaeology and Museum Baselland, Liestal (AMBL) carried out a large-scale scientific excavation in 2014. The rust red rocks brought to light are packed with a very diverse and well preserved fauna.

About 8 years after the excavation, most of the material has been dissected. As part of the project "The fossil collection of the excavation Anwil 2014", all the material from all three institutions is to be determined and catalogued according to modern standards. This is the only way to ensure that the cultural property remains available for future generations.

Of particular scientific interest is the high diversity of the ammonite fauna. An analysis of the changes between the individual layers allows to draw conclusions about the migratory movements as well as the development of the marine inhabitants. In addition, the fauna enables reliable dating and international correlation with geological find layers of the same age from other areas of the world.

Reactualization and digitization of the fossil fish collection of Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) - Part 2. Uploaded on Wikimedia Commons
Thierry Malvesy (Natural History Museum Neuchâtel)

Louis Agassiz (1807-1873) arrived in Neuchâtel in 1832 and was to bring about an unprecedented scientific boom in the city in little more than a decade. A large part of the palaeontological collections he built up is still housed in the Natural History Museum in Neuchâtel. Of these, the collection of fossil fish is the most important and is regularly requested by international specialists. It serves as a reference for Agassiz's emblematic publication: Recherches sur ses Poissons Fossiles 1833-1843.

The collection consists of 2301 fossil fishes, 490 of which have already been scientifically updated, computerised and their detailed palaeontological records inserted on the Wikimedia Commons website

The objective of the project is to finish the digitalization of the entire collection according to the same criteria and to continue the collaboration with Wikimedia.CH.

The work consists of updating the scientific names of the specimens in the collection and in particular cross-checking the information between the fossils and the publication of Louis Agassiz, in order to target the samples in our possession that are drawn (figured) or that have been used to describe a new species (types). Putting the collection online on Wikimedia Commons and processing the data on Wikidata will greatly facilitate access to this collection by the global scientific community and the general public.