Fossils come to us from the deep past of our world to be cherished, displayed and interrogated. Our connection with them has spanned thousands of years, from our instinctive recognition of their aesthetic value to the unveiling of their magnificent stories by scientists. This relationship is intimate, complex and deserving of celebration.
For visitors excited to learn more about our local geological and palaeontological story, museums provide the perfect mix of education and fun. Not only do they encourage and educate the public, museums are responsible for safeguarding important local objects for future generations; in museums along the Jurassic Coast, this often includes fossils! At the Jurassic Coast Trust, we are keen to promote and support the work of local museums, many of which rely on the hard work and dedication of volunteers to engage visitors, impart knowledge and generate excitement for the fossil collections and stories they tell.
Unfortunately, geological and palaeontological collections can be difficult to understand and engage with. They are not always the prettiest to look at and the science behind many of the most important discoveries, sometimes spanning millennia, can often seem out of reach.
At the Jurassic Coast Trust, we believe that with a little knowledge and the ability to find what sparks someone’s enthusiasm, these collections can be transformed into something captivating and informative. By encouraging volunteers to further their connection with fossils from the museum’s collection, and understand deeper how they contribute to the story of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, we hope that this enthusiasm will be passed on to visitors and audiences beyond the museum’s walls.
This is exactly what we hope to achieve with our new museum training programme, offered through the Jurassic Coast Collection and funded by the John Ellerman Foundation. Staff members from the Jurassic Coast Trust provide museums with a new perspective on their collections, highlighting how their work contributes to the ongoing efforts to protect the Jurassic Coast’s palaeontological heritage. The programme is broken down into 3 sessions:
- Session 1: Coast to Cabinet; The deep time origins of Jurassic Coast fossils and why they should be protected.
- Session 2: A crucial piece of the puzzle; An investigation into the significance of your museum’s fossil collection and how it fits within the wider context of the World Heritage Site.
- Session 3: A fossil with many faces: Engagement and bringing your collection to life.
The first session is a refresher of the Jurassic Coast story, delivered by Head of Heritage and Conservation, Sam Scriven. This session looks at why the Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site and takes a detailed dive into the Site’s palaeontology. Volunteers are able to explore how the fossil record enriches our understanding of evolution, environmental change, and the consequences of mass extinction. The session finishes by discussing how fossils are protected, from the moment of discovery on the beach to the role of museums in providing long-term security for important specimens.
The second session, delivered by palaeontologist Dr Chris Reedman, examines the significance of important fossils within the museum’s collection, using the opportunity to go into the galleries and consider the objects on display. Individual collections are evaluated within the wider context of World Heritage and the role and purpose of the Jurassic Coast Collection is discussed.
Having had a refresher on the Jurassic Coast and a deep dive into the Jurassic Coast Collection, this final session covers the practical steps towards engaging visitors and audiences with museum fossil collections, delivered by Earth Science Digital Content Creator, Dr Lauren Sewell. Looking first at the volunteer’s current collection and engagement knowledge as well as what inspires them about the palaeontology collection, this session then goes on to explore what might excite and engage visitors with fossils from the Jurassic Coast including digital technology and more traditional methods.
Combined, these sessions aim to empower volunteers to share the many stories these fossils tell and unlock the imagination of the audience. So far, sessions have been delivered to volunteers at Dorset Museum (in person) and Bridport Museum (online) with sessions planned for volunteers at Portland Museum and Sidmouth Museum in the next few months.
Volunteer feedback on a day session:
“Excellently paced day which invited us to explore further and learn more.”
“Inspiration to think about the context and relevance of collections, and their place in the ‘scientific’ record, their significance and what they might mean to different people.”
“Improved greatly my insight of the museum’s fossil collection.”
“Looking at cultural importance as well as scientific importance of specimens”
“Excellent speakers – knowledgeable and good communicators”
“Beautiful and professional presentation filled with interesting information, enthusiastically presented”