Geosciences Volunteers Create Lawrence Osborn Fossil Collection

Fossil sea scorpions, more than 400 million years old.
Fossil sea scorpions, more than 400 million years old.
A fossil dinosaur footprint from Massachusetts.
A fossil dinosaur footprint from Massachusetts.

Bringing together generous donations and specimens gathered from the geosciences department, volunteers have created the Lawrence Osborn Fossil Collection, now open to the public in the Morrill Science Center.

Adriane Lam, a third-year doctoral student in micropaleontology, curated the collection with her advisor, geosciences professor Mark Leckie, and her fellow graduate student Serena Dameron.

The collection, which is open weekdays 9 a.m.-5p.m., fills a wall of cabinets in Room 243A, adjacent to the department's Rausch Mineral Gallery.

Lam said when she arrived on campus she noticed the department had a number of splendid specimens that were neither organized nor displayed.

 “We decided to order the specimens according to geologic time, with the youngest fossils on the right side of the room and the oldest on the left. In addition, we also tried to separate the fossils within each cabinet by terrestrial and marine organisms. This way, visitors can see how life on Earth has changed and evolved through time on land and in the oceans,” Lam said.

Specimens include fossil plants and marine and land animals, some more than 500 million years old. Western Massachusetts has provided the collection with a 200-million-year-old dinosaur footprint. 

Learn about the collection and view sample specimens on the Curating a Fossil Collection page of Lam’s Time Scavengers blog.

The collection is named for Osborn, a retired UMass Amherst executive director of planned giving and amateur paleontologist. About a third of the collection was found by Osborn, who often accompanied professional paleontologists on digs.

Among its many treasures, the room holds the brachiopod collection of the late Charles Pitrat, a professor in the former department of geology and geography from 1964-91 and editor of the Journal of Paleontology.