For all the work that goes into getting fossil plants back to the Museum, that's only the first part of their journey. The next step is to prepare the fossils for further research.
Once in the Museum, fossils are unwrapped and placed in flats (shallow boxes). During this process, Leaf Whackers and Museum staff double check each fossil for the locality number applied in the field.
Dr. Kirk Johnson, the DMNS paleobotany curator, looks over the fossils and decides which ones should be prepared in the fossil lab. Most of the time, this simply involves deciding how much matrix should be removed, but it can also mean deciding which fossil plants can be sacrificed. Leaves can be deposited in dense layers, and sometimes an interesting plant is partially covered by another plant. Kirk makes the call on what to keep and what to remove, and marks the areas to be removed for the preparators.
How is preparing fossil plants different from preparing fossil bones?
No one knows exactly what's hiding under the matrix, so preparators must keep their eyes open for unexpected shapes. Sometimes a simple looking leaf has an unusually long drip tip or even a stem attachment. Occasionally an even more interesting leaf is buried in the rock. For this reason, fossil leaves are prepared with an air scribe and handed over to Kirk for inspection before they're trimmed.
Trimming fossil leaves requires a special tool that chops off the excess rock. Some Leaf Whackers consider trimming their favorite job because it gives them a chance to see every fossil. Fossils can easily break in this process so the trimmer keeps glue handy.
By the end of the leaf preparation evening, the fossil lab has gotten pretty messy. Just like preschoolers after arts and crafts, Leaf Whackers pitch in to clean up the mess. Meanwhile, the newly prepared fossils are taken to the collections area where they're individually boxed and placed in Museum storage cabinets. Curation is the next step.