5 minutes with Joanne Wilkinson, Senior Fossil Preparator and Conservator

What is your favourite object/species in the collection and why?

My favourite objects in the Queensland Museum Geosciences Collection are a set of fossil foot bones from Rhoetosaurus brownei, one of the largest, oldest and most complete Australian sauropod dinosaurs from Queensland. The individual bones fit together to form the foot of this gigantic animal. When I look at the size and strength of the bones I never cease to marvel and imagine what the actual animal would have looked like in real life.

Did you know….

  • Many fossils are discovered in the field covered in soil or embedded in rock with just a small part of the fossil showing. Often they don’t look like fossils at all. It is the role of the fossil preparator to use probes and pneumatic tools, or weak acids which dissolve the rock, to expose the complete fossil. These techniques require hours of patient attention to detail using special glues to support the bone as it emerges.
  • Science is an ever changing landscape and the traditional fossil preparation techniques used in the past are now complemented by exciting new digital scanning technologies. Extremely detailed images of surface and internal structures can now be captured and shared with researchers all over the world, making the study and comparison of animal and plant species much more accessible.
  • There are still many fossils to discover in the diverse fossil localities of Queensland.
  • In Queensland it is very rare to find a complete fossil animal but more common to find scattered bones, isolated bones or fragments of broken bones.
  • Jigsaw skills are very helpful when trying to piece together broken fossil bones.
  • Sediment samples are often collected from fossil sites and later sieved to recover very small fossils, less than 1cm in size. These are called microfossils.
  • These microfossils often tell us more about the ancient environment than one large sauropod dinosaur, so size isn’t always important.
  • The weirdest fossils I have seen are a series of bones called sclerotic rings, that occur in the eyeball of a marine reptile called an ichthyosaur. These very thin bones, arranged in a circle, support the eyeball when the animal dives to great pressures under the water and I think they are very beautiful.

Tell us a little bit about working in the Geosciences department?

I work in the Geosciences area of Queensland Museum providing technical support to our Palaeontologists and Collection Manager. I love my work because it includes such a variety of tasks and knowledge of a range of techniques. Some of these include field work at dinosaur and megafauna digs and preparing, repairing and conserving fossils in a laboratory. The work I do ensures that fossils are stable and safely stored for future research and exhibitions. I enjoy continuing the care of these objects so they are available for the joy and wonder of generations to come.

What is your favourite thing about your role at the museum?

My favourite thing about my role at Queensland Museum is being one small part of the long history of museum staff who have cared for the Queensland Museum Collection since it began in 1862. Many dedicated people have spent endless hours recording, preparing, conserving and making sure these irreplaceable objects remain in good condition and are safely stored with accurate data.

What is one of the most interesting facts you have discovered through working at the museum?

One of the most interesting facts I have discovered through working at Queensland Museum is that objects tell amazing stories which have the power to inspire us all. I love being a part of that experience.

What is your favourite exhibition at the museum (current or past) and why?

I would have to say that the current fossil exhibition, ‘Lost Creatures’ is my favourite exhibition because it has given the Geosciences team the opportunity to tell the story of ancient Queensland by showcasing the best Queensland fossils from the Queensland Museum Geosciences Collection.

Learn more about Joanne Wilkinson.