Grant to help preserve the first-found dinosaur fossils

The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History has received a grant to re-house and secure the long-term preservation of the collections of dinosaur fossils that Othniel Charles Marsh brought back from the American West in the 19th-century — including the remains of such now well-known dinosaurs as Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus), Allosaurus, Stegosaurus and Triceratops.

The museum is one of nine recipients of a Save America’s Treasures Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The $450,000 award to Yale is one of the largest issued.

Save America’s Treasures grants support the preservation of the nation’s most significant and endangered cultural treasures. The grants “will preserve the physical fabric of our history and the rich diversity of America’s story, as told by its artists, scholars and other notable figures,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, who announced the grants at a ceremony in the nation’s capital. “These awards also honor the hundreds of volunteers, organizations and communities whose energy and investment are ensuring that this national legacy endures for generations to come.”

Marsh was the nation’s first professor of paleontology, serving at Yale from 1866 until his death in 1899, and is one of the founding fathers of American paleontology. He was also the first head of the Peabody. On his death in 1899, The New York Times cited his “marvelous achievements in paleontology” and ranked him among the “greatest scholars and investigators” and “distinguished naturalists” of the age.

Marsh’s greatest legacy is the massive collection of dinosaur fossils that represents the backbone of the Peabody collections. “Prior to the 1870s, dinosaur specimens were rare,” says Derek E. Briggs, director of the Peabody Museum. “The wealth of specimens obtained by Marsh helped to raise the profile of the group and lay the foundations of today’s public fascination with dinosaurs.” Together with Marsh’s body of work based on them, these collections provided the fossil evidence to advance Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The Save the America’s Treasures Grant will fund new environmental controls, storage upgrades and other improvements designed to halt degradation of the dinosaur specimens and secure their long-term safety and stability. According to Briggs, the level of conservation and care that results will also ensure greater access to these historically and scientifically important collections and the information they hold, making them available to researchers, educators, students and the public. Overseeing the project for the Peabody will be senior collection manager Chris Norris and chief preparator Marilyn Fox.

“The fossil collections at Yale are the most tangible part of Marsh’s immense and ongoing legacy to the nation and a vital resource for scientific research,” says Briggs. “Dinosaurs and other vertebrate fossils have a profound ability to help inform, educate and inspire diverse audiences. This project will ensure that they continue to amaze and inspire future generations.”

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