The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 – meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.
This description is from David Temple, the museum’s curator of paleontology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent the most fascinating fossils in the Museum’s collections, that we’ll be sharing here – and at 100.hmns.org/ – throughout the year.
Brittle Star – Loriolaster mirabilis (HMNS 450)
(Devonian Hunsruck, Bundenbach, Germany)
This starfish, Loriolaster mirablis crept along the bottom of the Devonian sea around 390 million years ago, much as modern forms still do today.
This fossil was discovered in a particular kind of fossil locality known as Lagerstatten, a German word meaning “resting place.” In a sense, the organisms found preserved in this way hit the geological lottery – a perfect storm that engulfed and entombed their ancient worlds, creating conditions that record details not usually preserved, the squishy bits, soft tissue – parts that would normally rot away without leaving a trace. This is the perfect fossil graveyard.
The fossilization that occurs in these sites is not different from the process at other sites – just more intense. The burial is rapid, exclusion of oxygen and the introduction of iron pyrite all combine to create the conditions for atypical and amazing preservation.
Of the dozen or so of these paleontological localities that are known, the Museum has examples from many in the collection. These examples are part of a collection the Museum has from the Hunsruck Slate, found near Bundenbach, Germany, a Laggerstatten, Devonian in age, that has preserved more than 300 species.