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Department of Paleobiology

  • Steven J. Jabo
  • Research Assistant, Vertebrate Paleontology
  • Phone:   202-633-1332
  • Fax:   202-786-2832
  • E-mail Address:   jabosat SI dot edu
  • Mailing Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    PO Box 37012, MRC 121
    Washington, DC 20013-7012
  • Shipping Address:
    Smithsonian Institution
    National Museum of Natural History
    10th & Constitution NW
    Washington, DC 20560-0121


B.S. Penn State University, 1984

Research Interests and Responsibilities

Research assistance in the field of vertebrate paleontology. I am a preparator of vertebrate fossils: I plan expeditions to discover and collect vertebrate fossils and as much associated data as possible from the surrounding rock formations. Once they are shipped back to the museum, I then “prepare” them, or extract them from the rock matrix and make them available for study, and ready them for long-term storage.
Conservation:  Part of the preparation process involves consolidation and conservation. Our view is the 200 year plan – we want these bones to be around for the next 200 years and more so that they can be studied by future paleontologists. After the rock is removed from around a bone, a consolidant such as Butvar (polyvinyl butyral dissolved in acetone) is applied in such a way that it penetrates the bone surface through any cracks or natural openings. When the acetone evaporates, the dissolved Butvar solidifies and holds the bone together. The next step usually entails creating two-sided, padded plaster jackets in which the bones can safely rest on the collection shelves. As for exhibit specimens, we want to keep as many real bones as possible on exhibit, but not if it endangers their survival. They are vital to our work. So at-risk specimens and “type” specimens (those that new species were named for) are being removed from exhibit, conserved, and replaced with casts. Many will be put back on exhibit, but in a more conservationally secure environment – protected from vibration and from temperature and humidity fluctuations.

Other aspects of preparation involve the molding and casting of fossils for research or exhibition using a variety of techniques and casting media. Providing casts of specimens to other institutions allows all of us to display and study the Smithsonian’s fossils at the same time. Exhibit casts are painted to look like the real thing. In readying a specimen for publication, I also photograph them and create images under an SEM (scanning electron microscope).

Fossil Terrestrial Mammal Collections:  As part of my other duties, I maintain databases of our terrestrial mammal collections. The catalogued specimen database, created by combining other museum databases and correcting their mistakes and duplicates, makes it easier for visiting researchers to find any of the 40,000+ catalogued specimens they might require for their study.

I also created a database of the “profiles” of the 90 individual fossil mammal collections, which are defined by geographic location and stratigraphic age. The profile of a collection is basically a set of numerical values used to determine the collection’s “health” – observing such things as the physical state of the specimens, the condition of the cases and trays in which they’re stored, identification and documentation and labeling, and the percentage of cataloged specimens.

Other planned databases include a complete inventory of the fossil mammal collections – locating each and every specimen and ensuring that it’s in the right place and cataloguing them as needed – and an inventory of archival Vertebrate Paleontology materials in the department. Historically significant items such as field books, correspondence, photographs, artwork, maps, etc. will be located and noted.

Field Work Locations

  • Ordovician trilobites, Rome, NY
  • Silurian trilobites, Middleport, NY
  • Late Jurassic/Early Cretaceous dinosaurs and their footprints, reptiles, mammals, and more, Wyoming
  • Late Mesozoic plants, New Mexico
  • Late Cretaceous dinosaurs, Alaska and Montana
  • Early Permian vertebrates, Texas
  • Eocene mammals, Kazakhstan
  • Miocene mammals, Slovakia

Major Exhibition Projects

The exhibit preparation lab, FossiLab renovation: I helped design a new lab and the associated educational information on exhibit around it. I also train and help coordinate volunteers who work in there.

The Triceratops Project: Our exhibit mount of  Triceratops horridus, mounted in 1904, was in danger of falling apart. I was part of the team that dismantled, conserved, digitized, molded and cast, and remounted the cast bones in a more dynamic pose, facing off with our Tryrannosaurus rex mount. We created the world’s first fully digitized dinosaur made from real bones.

Our exhibit Stegosaurus stenops mount was also in danger on exhibit from the constant vibrations in the building, so Pete Kroehler, Jen Young, Bill Keyser and myself dismantled it, and remounted a cast of the bones in more correct anatomical pose.

Professional Societies

  • Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, 1992 – Present


  • Unsung Hero Award, Smithsonian Institution, 1996

Professional Service

  • Charter committee member for the Peparator’s Award, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology,1998 – 2002


Technical Paper

Jabo, S.J., P.A. Kroehler, F.V. Grady, 2006, A Technique to Create Form-fitted, Padded Plaster Jackets for Conserving Vertebrate Fossil Specimens (can be found on line here), Journal of Paleontological Techniques


Kroehler, P.A., S.J. Jabo, F.V. Grady, 1998, Padded plaster jackets: Testing methods for adhesion of Ethafoam padding, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting

Kroehler, P.A.,  S.J. Jabo, M.K. Brett-Surman,  M. Parrish, 1999, The lifespans of specimens on exhibit--Preventing a second extinction, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting

Young, J.L., S.J. Jabo, P.A. Kroehler, M.T. Carrano, 2004, Conservation and remounting of the Smithsonian's Stegosaurus stenops exhibit, USNM 8621, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting

Brett-Surman, M. K., S.J. Jabo, P.A. Kroehler, E.P. Kvale, M.T. Carrano, 2005, A new microvertebrate assemblage from the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation, including mammals, theropods, and sphenodontians, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting


1996, A new technique for creating padded plaster jackets for conserving vertebrate fossil
specimens, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting Platform Presentation.

1997, The FossiLab: Paleontology, preparation and the public, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting Platform Presentation.

1999, The use of three-dimensional computer imaging and scale-model prototypes in the mounting of a cast of Triceratops, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting Platform Presentation.

2005, The vertebrate paleontology laboratory as a multi-disciplinary, multi-functional space (or, other interesting projects I've worked on), Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Annual Meeting Platform Presentation.