Daniel S. Martin: Professor, Collector, Geologist, and Curator.

February’s update comes from Matt Gibson at The Charleston Museum. Our Historic Southern Naturalists Project continues to uncover key players in the preservation of natural history in the South, like Daniel S. Martin.

Professor Daniel S. Martin served as Honorary Curator of Geology at The Charleston Museum in the early 1900s. Prof. Martin was responsible for all rock and mineral samples as well as invertebrate fossils. Formerly a Professor of Geology at Rutgers Female College, and a geologist of renown, Martin helped reorganize the geological collections at the Museum which at the time were in disarray.  As Martin himself notes, “In the department of mineralogy and geology … little has been done since the time of Prof. Holmes” who had resigned his curator position with the Museum in 1869.

As curator, Prof. Martin took on the task of organizing the geological and paleontological specimens in the Museum and took particular note of two subsets of the Museum’s collection: A collection of minerals from the Ural Mountains (located in Western Russia) and a collection of phosphate rocks collected by Dr. C. U. Shepard. The Ural mountain collection was representative of the mining efforts in the area and included many semi-precious stones used in jewelry making such as emerald, topaz, garnet, and azurite, among others. Martin described this collection in Museum bulletin as truly exceptional and that “No such exhibit of Russian minerals can probably be found in any other Museum in the United States.” Dr. Shepard’s collection of phosphate rocks were collected from all over the world with the primary goal of being used comparison to the phosphates known from South Carolina.

While with the Museum, Martin also donated some of his own specimens to the collection. There are currently over 100 specimens within the Museum’s collection collected by Prof. Martin. Most are geology specimens, like samples of the metamorphic rock, gneiss. A high grade metamorphic rock, gneiss is formed from igneous rock (such as granite or schist) or sedimentary rock (such as sandstone) that has been exposed to high levels of heat and pressure. This process causes the minerals to align into distinct foliations, appearing as stripes or bands on the rock. Common minerals seen in gneiss include quartz and feldspar which are hard minerals. This in addition to the changes brought on through metamorphosis result in gneiss being a particularly hard material and results in gneiss commonly being used in industry as building material, as ornamental stone, and tabletops.

hand holding sample of gneiss
One of the gneiss samples donated by Prof. Martin

Prof. Martin also collected some paleontological material from the Charleston area. This includes two fossil whale teeth. Collectors have been uncovering fossil whale material from James Island to as far inland as Orangeburg, with specimens recovered inland being from older layers compared to those found closer to the present coastline. The two teeth are from an extinct species of odontocete, or toothed whale, and were collected from an old phosphate mine. These two specimens represent two more data points in fossil whale research in the Lowcountry. Specimens like the ones Prof. Martin collected over a century age help build our understanding of our natural world and we aim to continue his legacy of preserving these important objects.

two fossil whale teeth with historical label
These two fossil whale teeth were collected from the Lowcountry region of South Carolina

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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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