Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fossil preparation - odontocete tympanic

About two or three summers ago I collected a beautiful little odontocete tympanic from the Purisima. Problem was, I only found out it was beautiful (past tense) after it sat in about twenty or thirty pieces. Because the part that was exposed looked like some other type of bone (and not an odontocete tympanic) I mis-estimated how sturdy the fossil was, and it exploded as I carved matrix away from it. I have since not repeated the mistake. Anyway, the fossil has sat in pieces in a plastic bag for two years, and I finally got the courage to glue it back together. I say courage because 1) I was somewhat embarassed by this damage, and 2) I was nervous to piece together all these tiny fragments. Below is a photo of what I had to work with.
Tympanic fragments prior to preparation.

I began by finding the pieces of the robust involucrum, which is the thick portion of the cetacean tympanic. There are more or less three major portions of the tympanic: the involucrum (frequently the only preserved part), the posterior process, which attaches to the posterior involucrum, and the paper-thin involucrum (which in odontocetes is usually under 1-1.5mm thick, hence the overall fragility of these elements). Then, I started finding matching pieces, and gluing these to the involucrum.

The tympanic after 30 minutes of preparation; some of the outer lip fragments have been glued in place. Lateral view (top photo) and anterior view (bottom photo) - note the matrix-free tympanic cavity.

After a couple more hours, I was able to finish gluing back most of the outer lip of the tympanic, as well as the posterior process.

Tympanic before (left) and after (right) addition of the sigmoid and posterior process.

Tympanic in dorsal (left) and lateral (right) aspects.

After the fossil was glued together, it became very obvious that this was a tympanic from the "river dolphin" Parapontoporia wilsoni, which has a small posterior process, a sharp anterior apex of the bulla, and most characteristically a laterally inflated outer lip, not seen in any other Purisima odontocete (for which tympanics are known, and out of the given tympanic sample from the Purisima Fm.). As far as crania, jaws, periotics, tympanics, and parts thereof go, Parapontoporia is by far the most common Purisima odontocete (i.e. between collections at UCMP, SCMNH, and LACM go, there are roughly a dozen nearly complete crania known, rostrum not included).

Newly prepared tympanic (right) side by side with another very well preserved Parapontoporia wilsoni tympanic.

All in all, I was extremely pleased; in one afternoon I had turned a pile of fragments (which I had virtually no hope for) into a beautiful little specimen. All but three tiny fragments under 5mm in size were glued on; the other ones probably attached to the margin of the outer lip, which may require fragments lost during collection (or, conversely, pieces pulverized). But let's not split hairs here - this by far was the most damage I've ever done to an odontocete tympanic, to the point where I was embarassed to even think about it; and now, it's one of the nicest I have. The positive side to this inadvertently destructive mode of
collection was that all the matrix was absent from the tympanic cavity, unlike the specimen on the left in the above photo (where the matrix inside was actually phosphatized, but phosphatic 'cementation' had fortuitously not formed an overgrowth around the rest of the bulla - best case scenario!). This is one of about a dozen and a half or so odontocete bullae I've recovered from the Purisima.

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