Learning from the world below us
Department founder Tom Oliver started this collection in the early 1960s with six drawers of specimens he brought with him from the University of Alberta. Now with more than 20,000 specimens, the Geoscience Department’s general collection includes core samples, rock/gem/mineral samples, and polished rock sections, as well as specialized collections of meteorites, conodonts (extinct microfossils), and paleontological specimens.
The entire collection was housed in the University of Calgary’s Earth Sciences building until the year 2000, when portions of it were relocated to a large, warehouse-style room in the University Research Centre.
Carmen Chinery has been the collection’s curator for the past decade. When she arrived in the department, there were five different numbering systems in use. Chinery has since worked with the ledgers and specimens to consolidate everything under one cataloguing system.
There are now 20,000 specimens with an official University of Calgary number, and another 7,000-10,000 specimens waiting to be catalogued. One or two students are hired each summer to assist Chinery. They go through graduate student thesis projects in order to enter referenced specimens into the collection.
Most of the 700+ core samples come from Alberta and Saskatchewan, and were donated by oil and gas companies. Some of the ‘robust’ samples in the general collection are teaching specimens that can be handled by students. Rocks, fossils, and minerals are used in at least eight geoscience courses each year, and specimens are also needed for students’ lab work and exams.
Did you know?
The most unusual artifacts found in the collection – pieces of barrel hoops, rope and part of the mast – were from the HMS Investigator shipwreck of 1853. Brought back to the department by professors who conducted research in the Arctic’s Mercy Bay area, the samples have been returned to the Government of Canada.
The collection’s largest specimen is a stromatolite, which looks like a layered rock but is actually a structure consisting of fossilized lime-secreting bacteria and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). The one billion year-old stromatolite weighs 362 kilos and was recovered in 1984 from Sage Creek in southeast British Columbia.
The smallest specimens in the collection are fossilized plant spores. Palynology is the study of plant pollen, spores, and certain microscopic plankton organisms in both living and fossil form.