Over the last few years, Field Museum Research Scientist Pia Viglietti (a South African national) and MacArthur Curator of Paleomammalogy Ken Angielczyk have been building research exchange opportunities with the help of collaborators at South African-based institutions. Recently, the Bill Stanley African Scholars Program brought three professionals from the Iziko South African Museum—Robyn Symons, Zaituna Skosan, and Sibusiso Mtungata (L-R, top photo)—to the Field Museum between May 25 and June 17. During the visit, the Iziko team focused on improving their best practices and procedures for the curation and maintenance of fossil vertebrate collections. Several Field Museum professionals assisted the Iziko team, including Akiko Shinya (Chief Fossil Preparator), William Simpson (Fossil Vertebrates Collections Manager), Paul Mayer (Fossil Invertebrates Collections Manager), Adrienne Stroup (Collections Assistant), Connie Van Beek (Fossil Preparator), and Jim Holstein (Meteoritics and Mineralogy Collections Manager). Akiko in particular took the Iziko team under her wing, providing hands-on training in casting and molding, and embedding and thin sectioning, and also shared information on fossil preparation (bottom photo above). The Iziko team also took part in a photogrammetry project with summer interns in Evolving Planet (led by Ken and Pia), and spent a day in Paul Sereno’s lab at the University of Chicago learning about sculpting reconstructions (hosted by Tyler Keillor).
Weekends were also busy for the visitors, including introducing the mammal forerunner Lystrosaurus and the End-Permian mass extinction event at the ESCONI (Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois) children’s program, hosted by the College of Dupage. With the help of Brian Nugent (ESCONI) and Scott Galloway (Leader of the Children’s Program) children were presented with Lystrosaurus 3D masks and a coloring sheet, and had the opportunity to speak directly with the Iziko team on their fieldwork and fossil curation experiences (photo below). These interactions were captured digitally and will be used to develop two online short courses for the new Iziko South African Museum training portal called PalaeoLink. The portal is run through a collaboration between the University of Cape Town, Geological Sciences Department (Dr. Wendy L. Taylor), and the Iziko South African Museum’s Karoo Palaeontology Division. The broader goal of this exciting capacity-building initiative is to deepen the Field Museum’s relationships with Iziko and other African museums by establishing a knowledge-sharing program focusing on the curation, decolonization, and maintenance of collections. The PalaeoLink portal will serve local communities and research technicians through sharing of digital data and knowledge between institutions. The team believes that museums can address the colonial legacies of their collections in a positive way by taking part in capacity-building programs that help local communities and researchers in other countries share their own knowledge and regional heritage. The PalaeoLink team would like to thank the Field Museum Science and Scholarship Funding Committee, the Iziko Museums of South Africa, the University of Cape Town, PAST (Palaeontological Scientific Trust), and the DSI-NRF Centre for Excellence in the Palaeosciences (GENUS) for making this program possible.
1 – The Iziko team (left to right: Robyn Simons, Zaituna Skosan, Sibusiso Mtungata) outside the south entrance of the Field Museum of Natural History soon after arriving in Chicago. Photo taken by Pia Viglietti.
2 through 4 – The Iziko team working with Field Museum’s Chief Fossil Preparator Akiko Shinya on fossil molding practices at the Field Museum of Natural History. Photos taken by Robyn Symons.
5 – William Simpson shows the Iziko team the Field Museum’s Fossil Mammal Collections. Photo taken by Robyn Symons.
6 – The Iziko team, Akiko Shinya, and Tyler Keillor (far right) in Paul Sereno’s lab at the University of Chicago. Photo taken by Field Museum intern.
7 – Iziko Museum Fossil Preparator Sibusiso Mtungata (left), and Field Museum Research Scientist Pia Viglietti (right) working on a photogrammetry study in Evolving Planet. Photo taken by Robyn Symons.
8 – Jim Holstein shows Robyn Synons, from the Iziko team, a meteorite from the Field Museum's world-renowned Meteorite Collection. Photo taken by Zaituna Skosan.
9 – The Iziko team at the ESCONI Children’s Program event with Scott Galloway. The children are wearing Lystrosaurus masks brought by the Iziko team. Photo taken by Brian Nugent.