Post by Katje Hopkins, PSU undergraduate and Lab Tech for the Climate Change and Archaeology Project
I’m somewhat of a girly girl, and I have lots of experience painting my nails (nothing too extreme, just the occasional coat of pink or red). I have also had the opportunity to paint my younger brothers’ toenails, an ex-boyfriend’s, and even my dog, Baxter, got a coat of orange lacquer for Halloween this year. But never in my life would I have thought I would apply nail polish to a seal’s toenails. Yes, I have now gotten to do that too as part of a “special project” presented to me by our grad student Justin.
Since the work we are doing in the lab this quarter is the start of a hopefully years long project there is some set up involved. One important aspect of a well-supplied archaeology lab is comparative collections of fauna that may be found in the archaeological material. In our case that means seal. Our lab was loaned a seal skeleton from the Biology department but it had never been labeled. Good organization and record keeping dictate that bones from the same individual need to all have the same identifying number written somewhere that would not be distracting or obtrusive to identifying features. Our seal was given the identification of PSU-12-6-25Pv, that’s a lot of numbers and letters to fit on a little animal! And it needed to be written on every. single. bone.
To ensure that the labels would stick around for several years, a coat of clear nail polish is first put down on the bone, allowed to dry, then the label gets written in small legible print with an archival pen, allowed to dry, and a top coat of clear nail polish seals it in. And this is how I ended up painting a seal’s toenails. It was one of those moments where I thought to myself “huh, this is my job, it is ridiculous, but it is for science!”
I hope future lab interns will appreciate the work and care I put into those tiny little labels. And, I hope next time I get asked to do a “special project” it’s writing labels on an elk.