A Practical and Historical Perspective of the How and Why of Whitening Fossil Specimens and Casts as a Precurser to Their Photography

Open access


Whitening fossils and casts to enhance photographic detail has evolved from the early twentieth century in step with advances in photography in both film and digital technologies. Whitening began with clouds of NH4OH and HCl being blown together to form a fine white coating of NH4Cl. The wet method has disadvantages in not being very stable and forms thick coatings in humid environments. Heating dry NH4Cl in a calcium chloride drying tube and variously expelling it in a concentrated vapor came into use in the mid twentieth century. It is a more advantageous method and the one commonly used by most invertebrate palaeontologists. Most dry methods differ in delivery of air to the heated drying tube (blowing over superheated NH4Cl) - directly by mouth, squeeze bulb, aquarium aerator, compressed gas bottle, or from a centralized compressed air system. It produces a fine-grained coating and works best when performed in a fume hood. Heating antimony in a drying tube or burning magnesium ribbon to produce whitening vapor or blowing fine grained powder with an airbrush have their adherents but are rarely used. Whitening electronically is a technique in its infancy but holds a great promise, especially in photography of large invertebrates and vertebrates.

Bassler, R. S. (1953): Treatise on Inverebrate Paleontology, Part G, Bryozoa. - Geological Society of American, University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, xiii + 253 pp. (pp. G20-G21: Photographs and drawings)

Branson, E. B., Mehl, M. G. (1933): Conodonts. - The University of Missouri Studies, 8(1): 17.

Cooper, C. (1935): Ammonium chloride sublimate apparatus. - Journal of Paleontology, 9: 357-359.

Cooper, G. A. (1956): Chazyan and related brachiopods. - Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 137(1): 1-1275.

Farke, A., Williamson, T. (2006): A ceratopsid parietal from New Mexico and its implications for ceratopsid biogeography and systematics. - Journal of Vertebrates Paleontology, 26(4): 1018-1020. https://doi.org/10.1671/0272-4634(2006)26[1018:ACDPFN]2.0.CO;2

Feldmann, R. (1989): Whitening fossils for photographic purposes. - In: Feldman, R., Chapman, R., Hannibal, J. R. (eds), Paleotechniques. Special Publication, Paleontological Society, 4: 342- 346. https://doi.org/10.1017/S2475262200005323

Grabau, A. W., Shimer, H. W. (1910): North American Index Fossils, Invertebrates, Vol. 2. - A. G. Seiler & company, New York, xiv + 909 pp. (pp. 818-819)

Green, O. R. (2001): A Manual of Practical Laboratory and Field Techniques in Palaeobiology. - Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, xiv + 538 pp. (pp. 418-440)

Hammer, Ø., Spocova, J. (2013): Virtual whitening of fossils using polynomial texture mapping. - Palaeontologica Electronica, 16(2): 4T (10 pp.). https://doi.org/10.26879/384

Hegna, T. A. (2010): Photography of soft-bodied crustaceans via drying, whitening and splicing. - Journal of Crustacean Biology, 30(3): 351-356. https://doi.org/10.1651/09-3253.1

Ingen, G. van (1902): A method of facilitating photography of fossils. - Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 14: 115-116.

Ivantsov, A. Y. (1999): An improved machine for spraying Ammonium Chloride on paleontological specimens. - Paleontological Journal, 33(5): 592-593.

Jeffords, R. M., Miller, T. H. (1960): Air brush for whitening fossils, and notes on photography. - Journal of Paleontology, 34(2): 275-276.

Kier, P. M., Grant, R. E., Yochelson, E. L. (1965): Whitening Fossils. - In: Kummel, B., Raup, D. (eds), Handbook of Paleontological Techniques. W. H. Freeman, San Francisco, pp. 453-456.

Marsh, R. C., Marsh, L. F. (1975): New Techniques for coating paleontological specimens prior to photography. - Journal of Paleontology, 49(3): 565-566.

Poulsen, C. (1957): Improved method for whitening fossils for study. - Journal of Paleontology, 31(5): 1029.

Rasetti, F. (1947): Notes on techniques in invertebrate paleontology. - Journal of Paleontology, 21(4): 397-399.

Sass, D. B. (1962): Improved techniques for the photographing of fossils. - Journal of Paleontology, 36(1): 171-172.

Sakamoto, K. (1970): Some techniques for whitening fossils. - Geological Survey Professional Paper, 700-D: D230-D232.

Siveter, D. J. (1990): Photography. - In: Briggs, D. E. G., Crowther, P. R. (eds), Palaeobiology: A Synthesis. Blackwell Scientifi c Publications, Oxford, pp. 505-508.

Teichert, C. (1948): A simple device for coating fossils with Ammonium Chloride. - Journal of Paleontology, 22(1): 102-104.

Ulrich, E. O., Bassler, R. S. (1923): Paleozoic Ostracoda: their morphology, classifi cation and occurrence. - In: Silurian. Maryland Geological Survey, Baltimore, pp. 281-283.

Ulrich, E. O., Bassler, R. S. (1926): A Classifi cation of the toothlike fossils, conodonts with descriptions of American Devonian and Mississippian species. - Proceedings of the U.S. National Museum, 68(12): 4-5. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.00963801.68-2613.1.

Journal Information

CiteScore 2018: 0.72

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.347
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.376


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 256 256 34
PDF Downloads 124 124 12