This Week in History: huge donation of fossils from the McAbee Fossil Beds Heritage Site


The McAbee fossil beds are located near Cache Creek in B.C.’s Southern Interior.

Recently, the Royal B.C. Museum received an important and massive collection from that site.

Katie McEvoy is the museum’s assistant collections manager of paleontology.

She explains that the collection is comprised of 18 thousand different pieces, some with multiple fossils on one piece.

“It was donated to us earlier this year by the families of John Leahy and David Langevin,” says McEvoy.

“They were both amateur collectors, but really well respected in the community, and really passionate about education in paleontology.”

Leahy and Langevin collected the fossils at the province’s McAbee Fossil Beds heritage site near Cache Creek.

The site, an ancient lake, dates back about 52 million years, and received official heritage designation in 2012.

“The preservation on these is really incredible,” says McEvoy. “Especially some of the soft tissue that you don’t always get to see. And really delicate things like fly’s wings.”

Museum staff and volunteers spent weeks at the residence packing the collection into boxes, then driving the loaded truck to Victoria.

“Unpacking them is really the fun part!” says McEvoy. “It’s sort of like unpacking a present.”

Every fossil is individually catalogued with information to ensure the entire collection will be available to researchers.

And while fossil collections are often assumed to be stable and robust, they are at risk for certain damages.

“Most of our staff here are trained in care and handling — so are our researchers and a lot of the volunteers — and we are really careful as we handle them,”

“We try not to handle them when we don’t have to.”

Safe storage of this remarkable collection is paramount.

“The cabinets are really secure in case of things like earthquake,” says McEvoy “so collapse, and vibration… they’re pretty secure for that.”

There is also the risk of delamination from dramatic changes in humidity.

“The collections buildings here are kept at a really stable relative humidity to mitigate that risk.”

Another risk is exposure to UV light, which can also affect the fossil, changing colour and visibility.

“While they’re not being researched or displayed, we keep them in the dark,” explains McEvoy.

The collection has revealed plants, insects, fish and birds, and especially exciting to the research team, some of the fossils found are new to scientists.

“It’s been really, really important for the [Royal B.C.] Museum to acquire this collection,” says McEvoy.

“Now that it’s in the public trust, better research can be done on it. People can publish on it, and it’s available to everybody.”

Veronica CooperVeronica Cooper

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