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The invertebrate fossil collections in the Division of Invertebrate Paleontology can be traced to the early history of the Yale University.

During the past 200 years, seven generations of faculty and students have shaped invertebrate paleontology at Yale University. Benjamin Silliman began acquisitions of invertebrate fossils in the 1820s and for much of the century the holdings continued to grow through his efforts and those of James D. Dana. In 1866, the early collections were incorporated into the newly endowed Peabody Museum of Natural History, and through the efforts of Othniel C. Marsh, the collection's size and scope gained an international stature.

The first invertebrate paleontologist at Yale was Charles E. Beecher, who was appointed Curator and Professor of Geology in 1891. Using both Yale’s and his personal collections, Beecher developed one of the earliest classifications for trilobites and brachiopods. The invertebrate fossil holdings grew enormously when Charles Schuchert replaced Beecher after an untimely death in 1904. With Schuchert’s generosity, Yale’s collections grew enormously through purchase of private collections, support of graduate student field work, and the acquisition of choice brachiopod collections. In 1920, Carl O. Dunbar, Schuchert’s former student, was appointed to the Yale faculty and Peabody curatorial board. Initially, Dunbar spent his summers collecting in the Appalachians and midwest, expanding his familiarity with North American paleontology and stratigraphy, and building a regional stratigraphic collection for teaching and exhibition.

During the Schuchert–Dunbar era, the holdings of invertebrate fossils increased seven-fold, approaching 3 million specimens. Following the Schuchert–Dunbar era, the direction of invertebrate paleontology research changed to molluscan systematics and evolution with the appointments of Karl M. Waage and A. Lee McAlester.

Yale became a leading center for molluscan research with David E. Schindel after the departure of McAlester in 1975. When Waage retired Schindel left for a position at the National Science Foundation in 1986, John Ostrom filled the curatorial void in invertebrate paleontology until 1993. Leo Buss served as Acting Curator from 1992 until the appointment in 2003 of current Curator Derek Briggs.

For a more detailed account of this history of invertebrate paleontology at the Yale Peabody Museum, see the article The Legacy of Invertebrate Paleontology at Yale University [PDF 92K].