It’s been a ‘WHORL’ wind of a year…

Get it?

Unless you happen to be a ‘sheller’ (or a student working on this project) you may not get the pun. But the truth is we have spent the better part of the project year counting whorls. Seriously!

You see to get Lewis Reeve Gibbes’ shell collection ready for digitization, many hours of painstaking behind-the-scenes work was necessary. Though packaged carefully at the time, we spent countless hours unpacking and rehousing the shells in modern, archive friendly housing. Whether suspending a tiny specimen in a capsule or cushioning the bigger ones with ethafoam, each shell has now been safely secured in its new home.

Katy (one of our digitization assistants) places Neritina virginea, 21-374A.2 in a capsule for safe storage.

After rehousing, we then had to number the shells individually. Some were so small we devised alternative ways to mark them.

Then came measuring, counting, and the describing the shells. Have you ever tried to describe a shell? This is where the term ‘counting whorls’ entered our vocabulary.

Whorls, sutures, and striae have become common terms in our vocabulary these days, take a look at the different parts of the anatomy.

What came next? Well, research… and more research… oh, and did I mention research? You see we had to research the name of the shell from multiple historic labels, often noting different scientific names. Before the internet search engine, scientists relied on their own collections or books to identify a specimen. Multiple scientists active in the field resulted in multiple books and numerous names for the same specimen. The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature has standardized these names, so our task was to figure out the synonymy for each accepted scientific name. Just to give you an idea, we had one shell that had been mis-identified as a new species by scientists over 120 times.

Once we have a name then we move on to researching the collectors and the places of origin. Names and spellings of countries and islands have changed since the 1800’s when these shells were collected. For instance, we recently learned, thanks to your help, that Fiji was once known as Feejee island. And did you know that Demarara is a river in Guyana, or that New Holland is the continent we now know as Australia? Just being able to read the historic labels, written in 19th century English script, often using shorthand, and most times in pencil is difficult enough.

These labels are examples that show the collectors used any scrap of paper they had available to document a specimen.

This label is an example of the challenge encountered when transcribing handwritten 18th century labels. Can you read it?

Then on to photography, this has to be the easy part, right? Well ask our students how difficult and tedious this process can be. It can take numerous takes to get the correct angle and lighting. Not to mention, most of the shells aren’t flat and tend to roll around! But despite the challenges we have generated approximately 657 RAW photos of shells, 702 TIFF images of labels, with over 2200 final JPG photos.

Katy carefully places the specimen in our lightbox for photography.

And aren’t they gorgeous?

Thanks, we agree!

So, as we draw this project year to a close and are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (or hearing the ocean in our last conch)… we will soon be looking to the skies for our next phase of the project. See you soon!

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About McKissick Museum

Established in 1976, we're located at the heart of the historic Horseshoe on the University of South Carolina's campus. Our collections date back to 1801 and provide insight into the history of the university and the community, culture, and environment of the American South. free and Open to the public Monday - Friday, 8:30am to 5pm, and Saturdays, 11am to 3pm, McKissick has a diverse schedule of exhibitions and programs. McKissick Museum is accredited by the American Association of Museums, operating within their guidelines for the proper care and safekeeping of these historical artifacts.

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