Welcome to Geology Collections
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Disclaimer: Data and historical records associated with Field Museum’s geological collections may contain language which is culturally sensitive owing to the colonial context of the Museum's history. We have specimens collected over the last 150 years, and from all over the world. Some records associated with these specimens may include offensive language. These records do not reflect the Field Museum’s current viewpoint but rather the social attitudes and circumstances of the time period when these records were made.
We welcome feedback. We are continually working with our geological records to ensure the accuracy and appropriateness of these data. As we work to promote a greater understanding of the global heritage embodied by our collections, we actively seek consultation and will revise or remove information that is inaccurate or inappropriate. We encourage and welcome help from minorities and other people historically-underrepresented in museum communities, scholars, and others to improve the data in our geological records.
Earth Sciences at The Field Museum are focused on paleontology, systematics, evolutionary theory, meteoritics and polar studies. Most of our paleontologists take an interdisciplinary approach in their research programs, combining fossil and living organisms together to extract information of broad evolutionary significance. Current research within the Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies focuses on the presolar history of our Galaxy, on the early evolution of our Solar System, and on the flux through time of extraterrestrial matter to Earth and its influence on Earth systems. The Center also supports field work and data analysis projects in Earth's polar regions.
You can currently search these collections:
Fossil Invertebrates - The Field Museum’s fossil invertebrate collection started with the purchase of the Ward's Natural Science Establishment collection displayed during the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The collection grew steadily over the years with the work of A.W. Slocom, S. K. Roy, E. S. Richardson and other Field Museum geologists plus numerous donations from other museums, universities, and the general public. In 1965 the Field Museum acquired the University of Chicago’s Walker Museum fossil invertebrates, which more than doubled the total number of specimens in the collection. Today there are an estimated 2 million specimens divided into ~320,000 specimen lots. The majority of the collection is arranged systematically divided by geologic periods. The remaining collection is organized stratigraphically.
Paleobotany - The Paleobotany Collection spans 3.8 billion years of history but has its major strengths in the Late Paleozoic and Cretaceous-Paleogene. Current research focuses on the evolution of fire systems in deep time, with emphasis on this phenomenon in coal-forming environments and its impact on Earth system processes, particularly fluctuations in atmospheric oxygen concentrations throughout the Phanerozoic.
Fossil Vertebrates - Not currently available online. Please Contact Bill Simpson for Fossil Vertebrate data records.
Physical Geology - Not currently available online. Please Contact Jim Holstein for Meteorite and Gem data records.
The collections exist to support and advance the Museum’s mission. The Department recognizes several types of access issues related to the collection:
Access for Research PurposesPermission to access the collection for research purposes is granted by the relevant curator or, in their absence, the Department Chair. Requests will be evaluated according to an assessment of the intrinsic merits of the request, the qualifications of the applicant, and a review of existing and pending Departmental priorities and obligations. If the same or similar research has been conducted in the recent past, additional justification may be requested of the applicant. Once permission for a research visit has been granted, an appointment must be requested with Collections Managers at least two weeks in advance. Appointments will be granted according to existing space availability and time constraints, and the established care and security needs of the collections and collections records. Appointments are given during regular business hours, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. Appointments to view archival materials must be made separately and in advance with the Museum archivist. Access to certain collections and documents may be further restricted because of security, and privacy concerns. Restricted areas, collections, or documentation may therefore require special permission or necessitate special conditions for access. Specifically, the Department honors donors' rights to privacy, protects confidentiality agreements and legally secure documents. The Department does not conduct appraisals, nor does it release specimen values to the public. For security reasons, storage locations are not made public. Unprocessed collections and specimens undergoing conservation treatment are not available until processing or treatments are complete. Access to selected high security areas requires notification of the Department of Protection Services, and escort by an additional Department staff member. Access to Collections Data Access to collections data for research and other purposes will be assessed by a Curator on an individual basis. Some data may not be made available.
Access to Specimens on ExhibitThe Collections Managers, with the Curator’s permission, will coordinate with the Exhibits Department when staff, interns, or visitors wish to have access to specimens on exhibit. Specimens can be studied in place or retrieved and brought back to the department, depending on how the specimen is displayed. The Exhibitions Department is responsible for arranging security coverage in the Gem Room. Requests for access to exhibit specimens will be approved or denied using the following criteria: Physical effect on the specimen of its removal from the display. Basis for request. Date of request for access. Length of time specimen would be off exhibit. Staff required to provide access. Expenses incurred to the department or exhibits. Equipment required to provide access. Access for Tours Permission to tour the collections is granted by the Department Chair or appropriate Curator. A staff member must accompany all tours through storage areas. Public Relations will be notified of any request for access by the media, but permission must be granted by the Department Chair or appropriate Curator.
Access for Construction and Other ActivitiesPermission to access the collection for construction and maintenance activities may be granted by the Collections Manager and Curators, with prior project-specific approval of the Department Chair. A staff member, or, where determined by the department, a Museum security guard must accompany all contractors at all times.
Barring AccessAccess to the collections will be barred for the following reasons: Theft Damage Staff safety Conflicts of interest with either “the Mission of the Museum” or with research programs
Outgoing LoansThis policy shall apply to the temporary physical transfer of specimens from the collections of the Department of Geology, The Field Museum.
Loans of specimens from the Department of Geology collections will be made for purposes of research, advanced education, exhibition, destructive analysis, or the fabrication of casts and molds. The Department will consider educational loans on a case-by-case basis. Loans will not be made for any purpose that involves the support or promotion of ethical positions contrary to those held by The Field Museum, nor which demeans or devalues the integrity or quality of any part of the Department of Geology collections. The Department of Geology does not lend specimens to institutions that knowingly violate the provisions of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Loans that involve destructive analysis must comply with the Department of Geology's Destructive Analysis Policy and Procedures. Loans made for reproductions will be governed by the Field Museum’s Licensing Policy].
EligibilityUpon the recommendations of the relevant Curator, loans will be made to other museums, other institutions and to individuals through their institutions. Other cases need special approval by the Department Chair. Loans may be made to students ONLY through their academic advisor at the same institution. In this case, the loan should be made out to the institution and academic advisor for the student.
ApprovalLoans will be made only with the authorization of the Chair, and the approval of the appropriate Curator following consultation with the Collections Manager. Collections Managers should be consulted before any loan is approved to make sure that sufficient staff support and space are available to process the loan request in a timely fashion. Material on exhibition is not normally available for loan. Normally, loans will not be made of specimens that are being prepared or that are uncatalogued.
AdministrationAll loans of material from the Department of Geology will be administered by the relevant Collections Manager, who will prepare and maintain all necessary documentation. All inquiries regarding loans should be directed to the Collections Manager.
Loan CostsThe Department of Geology will pay reasonable shipping costs for the outgoing loan, as is common practice in the field of geology. The borrower will pay for the loan return.
Conditions For All Outgoing Loans
The following conditions must be contained in all loan agreements for all loans of specimens from the Geology collections.
- LOAN AGREEMENT
- PACKING AND TRANSPORTATION
- PUBLICATIONS AND PUBLICITY
- CASTS AND MOLDS
- IMAGES (PHOTOS, FILMS, X-RAYS, CT SCANS, SURFACE SCANS AND ANY OTHER IMAGING)
Use in exhibitions
The Museum places original, reconstructed, and duplicated specimens from the collections on public exhibition. These specimens remain part of the research collections from which they originated, and shall be treated in a manner consistent with the policies stated above. If the Curator in charge determines that exhibition will damage the specimens, or is damaging the specimens, from the research collection, the situation shall be remedied immediately. Such remedy may entail removal of the specimens from exhibition with approval of the Curator in charge and the Department Chair.
Commercial Use of Museum Specimens
Normally, the Museum collections are not available for commercial, non-educational use. However, at the discretion of the curator in charge and with approval of the Vice President of Academic Affairs and the Museum Licensing Committee, specimens may be made available for reproduction for commercial sale. The Curator and other Museum professionals shall be the judge of quality control, selections, and marketing with approval of the Vice President of Academic Affairs and the Museum Licensing Committee. Such commercial use shall be consistent with this collections policy and that of the Museum Licensing Committee. Copyright for reproduction of Museum specimens shall remain the property of the Museum.
Replication of Field Museum Speciments ot Casts
Guidelines For Permitting Replication
Any specimens or casts used for molding must be in sufficiently good condition to withstand the molding process without undue risk of harm. The decision whether to allow the molding of any particular specimen or cast rests with the Curator in consultation with the Preparator when the resulting cast is intended for standard museum uses. All molds created of collection specimens shall remain the property of the museum. Casts may be distributed outside the Department for research purposes.
Specimens shall only be acquired for which there is good title. The appropriate Collections Manager will collect and keep on file all documents pertinent to title and provenance, such as the deed of gift, purchase agreement, exchange agreement, accession papers, permits, correspondence with the donor, etc.
All specimens come to the museum through one of eight avenues: gift (donation), bequest, purchase, fieldwork, exchange, conversion, governmental deposit, or abandonment.
- A gift is defined as the transfer of ownership of an specimen during the donor’s lifetime. For a gift to be legal, there must be clear intent to give, acknowledged physical receipt of the gift by the donee, and properly documented by a deed of gift signed by the donor.
- A bequest is a gift whereby title is transferred by will after the donor’s death.
- A purchase is when the museum buys a specimen through auction, dealers, or from a private individual. Proof of payment or bill of sale is required for clear title and must be documented by the purchase agreement.
- Collections acquired through fieldwork, such as a geological collecting expeditions, are bound by increasingly complex laws regarding cultural property and the like. Such collections require special attention to ensure that proper customs documentation, permits, and other documentation are obtained prior to acquisition to prove clear title.
- An exchange is a transfer involving reciprocal transfer of specimens, and must be documented by the exchange agreement.
- A governmental deposit is the acquisition and stewardship of specimens on behalf of a federal, state, local, or tribal agency that maintains title to the collection.
- Abandonment refers to the acquisition of specimens to which the original owner has effectively rescinded ownership by failing to maintain interest in the specimens as demonstrated by a lack of contact with the Museum. Such specimens will be processed under applicable state and federal abandoned property law.
- A conversion occurs when a specimen is left unclaimed at the museum after a loan agreement terminates bound by specific legal procedures regarding abandoned property.
The appropriate Collections Manager in consultation with the Curator will evaluate all potential acquisitions against Museum-wide collections criteria as well as the following issues and considerations:
Is the specimen consistent with the Mission of the Museum and the specific research goals of the Department of Geology?
- Can valid title to the specimen be passed to the Museum? i.e. by deed of gift, purchase agreement, exchange agreement, collecting permit.
- Can all rights to the specimen be conveyed to the Museum, including any intellectual property rights?
- Does the acquisition of the specimen violate applicable state, national, or international laws or conventions that protect the rights of artists or the rights of countries to their cultural history, or a protected species?
- Is the specimen subject to repatriation to a Native group?
- Is the specimen free of donor restrictions or qualifications that conflict with the conditions stated in the PSAD?
- Will the acquisition of the specimen create undue burdens on the Department, either in the form of financial commitments for conservation or maintenance, storage space requirements, housing requirements, staffing, or other issues?
- Can the acquisition of the specimen be construed as a commercial endorsement or contribute to the illicit or unethical trade in cultural specimens?
- Will the specimen be useful for exhibition and educational purposes, and for research and scholarship?
- Does the acquisition meet the requirements of the Museum’s antiquities policy and PSAD?
Museum staff do not appraise or authenticate specimens for the general public, in accordance with general Museum policy and professional ethics statements (for FMNH, AAM and SAA statements of ethics).
The Department reserves the right to select some, but not all, of the specimens offered in any potential acquisition. This reservation will be communicated to the intending donors before the donation is made.
Once the appropriate Curator has accepted a proposed acquisition, it shall be accessioned by the Collections Manager and becomes subject to all appropriate Museum policies. The accessioning process shall be completed in a timely fashion.
Documentation associated with a collection is considered to be part of that collection and has collection status once accessioned. Collections documentation is kept in perpetuity, even if the specimen itself is eventually deaccessioned.
Requests for destructive analyses are treated as out-going loans, with significant additional considerations. Destructive analysis is not allowed, except under exceptional circumstances, and requires prior written approval of the Field Museum.
Destructive Sampling ProtocolDestructive sampling of our collections is unusual but it may be permitted provided you can satisfy the following requirements: You must submit a "mini-proposal" concerning the scope of your study. You must give us detailed descriptions of the destructive sampling procedures you intend to use including expected sample sizes, and how much would be destroyed in each sample. You must tell us what success you've had using these destructive procedures in the past on fossil or sub-fossil material. We'll want you to do a "pilot study" on a small subset of our specimens to see if the destructive sampling you carry out does in fact produce the kinds of data you hope to get. You must keep accurate and exhaustive documentation (including photography etc.) of the specimen prior to, and throughout the process of sampling. You must cover the costs of molding and casting any specimens which you propose to damage or destroy through your sampling. We will want any specimens damaged or destroyed to be ones for which there were other, similar specimens, "duplicates" in effect, in the collection. All materials and data generated are the property of The Field Museum. You must return all unused materials to Field Museum. We restrict the use of the data you gather from our specimens: it may be used for your scientific research only. You may distribute it to others only through publication in a peer-reviewed journal. No commercial uses would be allowed. This covers every kind of data including but not limited to DNA extracts.