Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Nerve wracking

Yesterday I have been working on some fossil fish at NMR (the Museum of Natural History Rotterdam). Don't be misled by the word fish. It sounds like there was a big tuna on my plate, excuse me, my desk. But the material I got my hands on was far from that...

A few dozen tiny fossils. The largest about 30mm. And then I mean the material; the fish itself is often even smaller. Or incomplete. Dozens of fragments and, fortunately, one complete specimen so I could place all the pieces in the right place like a miniature jigsaw.

Each mini fossil was individually wrapped. Small, fragile pieces of clay each wrapped in paper layers and covered with tape. I thought I was going crazy. Spent hours unpacking it very carefully, examining it under a stereo microscope, photographing it and packing it up again - extremely carefully.

The museum was - as always on Mondays - closed to the public. Only somewhere far away from me there were still a few people working in a few offices and outside painters were busy building scaffolding. So I sat there, practically alone, in eerie silence, calming my nerves. And my enthusiasm, because I do have unique material in my hands. A silence that was only interrupted when, very eerily, a telephone rang, the sounds of which echoed through the empty museum. Or, even better, if the painters let a steel pipe from the scaffolding fall from their hands. A metallic sound that was, if possible, even scarier and reverberated even longer.

Every package was a little party. What would be in it? A complete fish? Just a head? Or a tail? Or an indefinable fragment. It wasn't just that the pieces seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. Each package really got smaller and smaller. Until the last package. A tiny tube with three fragments that were just about the smallest of the smallest. Three pieces of clay, less than a centimeter in size, each with one fish scale on it. One! The three pieces were at the bottom of the tube. I first removed the cork cap, then the wad of paper that closed the tube and held the pieces in place, and then gently slid the pieces onto my hand. At that moment, one of the painters, swearing, crushed a steel pipe. I dropped the three pieces from my hand in fright...

Miraculously, all three fell gently onto a piece of foam rubber that I used as a pad.
That was it.
I was done with all that fiddling.
I quickly looked at the mini fossils under the microscope, tried to take a usable photo of them and then headed home quickly.
I turned up the music in the car so that I arrived home completely relaxed, somehow thinking "Might be fun to watch "Night at the Museum" again..."