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SPACES: the stone flowers of the Science Center

November 2, 2011

The atrium of the Center for the Sciences in flanked by several display cases of giant prehistoric fossils. This is the college’s crinoid collection.

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Crinoids, often called “sea lilies” or “stone flowers” (although they are animals, not plants), were abundant about 350 million years ago in the Mississippian Period.

These particular crinoid fossils were collected and cared for by geology enthusiast B.H. Beane  (in the photograph below) between 1890 and 1931.Years later, local industrialist Robert Solem—himself a fossil fiend—bought the collection and eventually gave it to Beloit College in the 1960s.

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The collection is comprised of about 500 slabs, and over 2,500 individual specimens at last count. The collection has been valued by numerous experts, with many estimates exceeding $100,000.

Getting the crinoids on display has been a long process. The display cases in the atrium were not designed to hold such heavy specimens, despite specifications submitted by the geology department prior to construction. Geology Technician Steve Ballou (pictured below)  redesigned the cases and the department worked to design the exhibit.

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Carl Mendelson, Solem Chair in the Natural Sciences, expects the displays will be entirely finished by the summer. In the meantime, the crinoids look great—check them out next time you’re passing through the atrium between classes.