Webinar 2: Fossils and cultural objects (Pip Brewer)

The following question(s) were asked in the Collection Management Systems Webinar and will be answered here.

Pip Brewer: It is interesting to see that fossils and cultural objects are being looked at in the data model. How far will you be going - will you be looking at mineralogical and petrological specimen data?

I can’t represent GBIF on this, but it seems to me that the scope of a biodiversity information facility should be biodiversity. Our use cases do not include mineralogy or petrology, and I can’t imagine them taking priority over those already on the table and unfinished. However, I am confident that the Unified Model is broad and flexible enough to act as a solid foundation for those disciplines as well.

A lot of people might say that fossils are biodiversity? I think they are - we can learn from the past!

As for cultural objects - there can be a quite a bit of biological information in a cultural object. Whether it is direct (a mink pelt) or indirect (painting of an otter). For some times/places, the only evidence of biological information may come from whatever was “recorded” in cultural objects.


I am keen on giving a space to fossils in the model. However, cultural objects may lead to misinformation if they are not treated cautiously.

For the mink pelt, one can follow a similar approach as John did with the Parka case of Arctos in the webinar 2 (22’20") However, in terms of georreferencing species occurrences, this case can only point at the location where the Parka was found and not at the original location of the specimen whose pelt was used to make the Parka. This is one of the things to be cautious about when dealing with cultural objects. For what we know a pelt could have travel the world before making it into the final cultural object. Hence the location of the object is not necessarily the same as the location of the species occurrence. Similar to museum collections, although usually these have some knowledge of the original location of the specimens.

Regarding indirect cultural objects such as paintings, this is a bit trickier, since people could make a copy of a painting of an organism that do not occur naturally in the location of the painter or even of organisms that do not exist (until proven otherwise, such as mermaids and dragons). In these cases I am not sure that GBIF as a species occurrences aggregator is the best platform to accommodate these types of data.