Development of an On-line Database with GIS Connections for Vertebrate and Other Fossils

WOODS, Justin A., Information Services, Southwestern Adventist University, 100 Magnolia, Keene, TX 76059, justin@woodsmedia.com and
CHADWICK, Arthur V., Geology, Southwestern Adventist University, 100 Magnolia, Keene, TX 76059

We began excavation of a promising vertebrate site in the Upper Cretaceous Lance Formation in Wyoming during 1996. At that time our vertebrate fossil holdings were catalogued by conventional paper and pencil methods. With the accumulation of over 1000 new vertebrate fossils each season, we determined to investigate digital methods of cataloging. We initiated real-time digital photographic documentation in 1997 and in coordination with advances we were making in digital acquisition of field data we determined to modernize our curation procedures as well. We began with a flat model database using MySQL with a custom front end. While this worked reasonably well, it was neither adequate nor fast enough for our long-term needs. So a custom front end was designed which utilized database normalization (multiple interlinked database tables) obviating data repetition and greatly accelerating access to the data.

At present, we have over 7000 vertebrate fossils in the database, including all of the bones and other fossils from the new site. We are slowly working backwards on the other collections, and are hoping to bring some of them on line by 2007. The database enables on-line access, search by any category, user controllable data interface and thumbnails expandable into images averaging larger than 1600 X 1200. All of the bones have true 3-dimensional geospatial data associated with them in the catalogue so that it is possible not only to see photographs of the prepared bones, but to visualize them in the context of the array of bones in each quarry site.

This site provides a wealth of data on-line that can be accessed for research or educational purposes and represents a new concept in freedom of access to valuable but scarcely attainable data. The photographic images allow direct comparisons between specimens from other collections and make the data from each field season available for those interested in seeing the results. The ability to see each bone in its context enables data analysis to be done on-line without necessarily having access to the collection. The public accessibility and ease of use of the catalog ensure that the catalog will have an important role in the future of paleontology and taphonomy of vertebrates.

Our online database is open to the public and is located at: http://geology.swau.edu/fossil/

paper presented at the GSA 2005 meeting, Salt Lake City, UT, Oct 2005.