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Beyond the Visible Spectrum: The use and application of ultraviolet (UV) light photography as a diagnostic tool for discovery, digital documentation and analysis of paleontological specimens.

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Rene Lauer
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The use of UV photography is a valuable diagnostic tool for improved visualization of rarely seen data such as soft tissue preservation and fine structures in the invisible light spectrum of paleontological specimens. This enhanced visual data is of particular importance to the study and documentation of the bulk of our collection of Solnhofen limestone fossil specimens. We sought to develop a standardized, time efficient and easy to use system to obtain consistent, high quality images. We tested and developed a system using standard digital cameras; relatively affordable UV lights; polarized and colored filters; consistent camera settings and workflow; a visible but non-invasive tile to indicate data not captured in camera metadata; and designed a flexible camera workstation consisting of a camera stand; UV light array with adjustable stand; 4k monitor; heavy duty table with hydraulic lift to accommodate widely diverse sizes of specimens to obtain a sequence of digital images ranging from visible light through the ultraviolet spectrum. These images provide greater understanding of morphology, mineralization, geologic data and manmade interventions of paleontological specimens. Our UV photographic protocol captures far greater data than the human eye to quickly and easily identify soft tissue preservation such as skin, scales, dermal denticles, feathers, pycnofibers, provides clarity, definition and fine detail of morphology, stomach contents, trace fossils, and clearly identifies negative and positive fossil material. All of these newly visible data provide greater understanding of species and their environment for the advancement of science. UV photographic imaging of older, previously prepared specimens, reveal a history of techniques and methods used, both good and bad, and identify manmade interventions where breaks, repairs, areas of restoration, and use of glues, epoxies, fillers and paints or surface treatments were applied. These data are virtually invisible in the visual light spectrum, discovery and documentation is of critical importance to the integrity of scientific data analysis of fossil specimens.