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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department ofVertebrate Zoology

The Smithsonian Archives holds this etching of the first natural history lab in the Smithsonian Castle. The OPL continues the collections based research tradition started in this lab. Credit: Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Archives holds this etching of the first natural history lab in the Smithsonian Castle. The OPL continues the collections based research tradition started in this lab. Credit: Smithsonian Institution

The OPL staff and their global scientific affiliates’ work to catalogue and document vertebrate specimens contributes greatly to a continuing historic tradition of vertebrate research done at Smithsonian Institution.

In fact, that tradition of preparing and cataloging skeletons can be traced back to the beginning of the Smithsonian Institution itself. In the mid 1800's, James Smithson's legacy called for an Institution with a mission to pursue the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Under Spencer Baird, the Institution's second secretary and an avid naturalist, that mission evolved into a system called collections-based research. This system involved preparing and curating animal specimens within the Smithsonian Castle for scientific research – particularly comparative anatomy of vertebrate skeletons.

That collections-based research tradition continues in the museum today, with both the preparation and curation procedures of animal specimens relying on the unwavering detail of the OPL staff, bugs, and compost. Despite the rather unpleasant smell and macabre nature of their work, the Osteo Prep Lab's activities are integral to both the public outreach and research activities of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

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