Berlin, Day Three: Paläontologische Sammlung (Palaeontology)

On my third day in Berlin, I was unsure exactly what I would be doing.  My contact there had told me only palaeo was an option and that I’d find out on the day.  Unfortunately most of the department were at a conference out of town, with only a skeleton crew left at the museum (not literally skeleton, despite being a natural history museum).

I was passed on to a lady in palaeobotany (Catrin Puffert) who had some work for me to do.  It was a shame to not be able to see the collection in the same way as I had the previous two days, but some hands-on work experience would be just as useful.  Catrin was going through some cabinets of fossils that had undergone a change of location and checking to see what was what.  My job was to go through, drawer by drawer, and check the contents against a print-out.  On the sheet, I had to either tick the location number (corridor : cabinet/drawer number : side) if it was correct and, if not, write down the new location.

Once I had completed that job, I was shown to a computer and the palaeo department’s database. It was straightforward to use and I was trusted with inputting the information I had just collected onto it.  Like all the departments at the museum in Berlin, palaeontology had its own unique database, with a tailored set of fields; I set about adding the data, marvelling at its ease of use.

Once I had finished editing the database, I had one more job to do.  There was a cupboard full of fossils and I had to look at each one and write down their inventory numbers.  Out of over 50 fossil ferns, only four of them were numbered.  After that, I was free to go.

As I said, it was a shame that I didn’t get to see the collection properly; I only saw two cupboards (in great detail).  Helping Catrin with a fundamental curatorial job was useful though, and I appreciated getting to use another database system.  Next: arachnids and fish!

(Since this post is quite light in terms of photos, here’s one of some of the dinosaurs in the main hall.)

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4 thoughts on “Berlin, Day Three: Paläontologische Sammlung (Palaeontology)

  1. What are your thoughts on the processes and routine tasks of the Berlin museum compared to Hereford and Ludlow? Are there any particular differences in how they approach curating or is it a case of: same work; different collection?

    • This is a question requires a more comprehensive answer; maybe it would be a good idea for me to do a summary post regarding this.

      There are differences between Berlin and here, but there are also differences (rather fundamental ones) between, for example, the Vermes and Mammal departments in Berlin. This will be covered in later posts.

      The main difference in curation is that in Germany (as it used to be in the UK), curators are scientists (they almost exclusively have a PhD and experience of post-doc research), conducting research on their collections and employing assistants that take care of the day to day tasks of looking after the collections themselves. Here, that’s what curators do. They maintain and preserve the collection and allow access to visitors (including researchers) but, outside of national museums, are usually not involved in the research themselves (there are exceptions, of course).

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