Geoscience collections of the Department of Geology, Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech), represent the largest geological archives in Estonia, holding over 0.4 million fossil specimens, rock samples, micropaleontological preparations, drill cores etc. The most valuable part of the collections contains more than 20,000 type-, figured- and cited specimens, of which more than 1,200 are name-bearing taxonomic types. These, and linked information are curated with the help of a multi-institutional data management platform. The bulk of the collections were established during the last seventy years of geological research in Estonia and neighbouring regions. The materials are actively used by Estonian scientists and students, but every year we also host visitors from other countries and send out loans in physical as well as digital form.
The first geological studies in Estonia were carried out in the 17th century, but systematic research started in the 19th century. In 2020, Estonia celebrated the 200th anniversary of geology education. These long traditions of geological research have been promoted by excellent exposures of Lower Palaeozoic sedimentary rocks rich in well-preserved fossils, many of which have found their place in the museum collections in Estonia and abroad.
The Institute of Geology of the Estonian Academy of Sciences – which is now the Department of Geology at TalTech – was established in 1947 as the central geological research institution. The institute soon developed into an important centre for palaeontological and stratigraphical studies in the Soviet Union. During the “golden period of geological research”, the number of staff of the institute reached nearly 200, including 18 palaeontologists covering all major lower Palaeozoic fossil groups. Fieldworks were extensive in Estonia and neighbouring areas and, as a result of these, the collections grew rapidly. From 1960s to 1980s institute's scientists participated in many expeditions all over the Soviet Union, which also contributed significantly to the growth of the collections. For instance, the large collection of Devonian fossil fish from the Soviet Arctic islands, lithological and palaeontological collections from Subpolar Urals, Podolia and Siberia are being held at TalTech and continuously used to date. Special expeditions for collecting meteorites from several distant regions of the Soviet Union were also organised. This period was also characterised by extensive drilling programmes for geological mapping, exploration, and resource estimation in Estonia, which created foundation for the drill-core collection. However, many fossil specimens held by TalTech derive also from these drill cores.
The palaeontological collections of TalTech include research materials of many renowned Estonian palaeontologists; for instance, Dimitri Kaljo (rugose corals, graptolites), Einar Klaamann (tabulate corals), Heldur Nestor (stromatoporoids), Linda Hints and Madis Rubel (brachiopods), Ralf Männil (bryozoans, trilobites, echinoderms), Reet Männil and Helje Pärnaste (trilobites), and Elga Mark-Kurik and Tiiu Märss (vertebrates). The large vertebrate collections from Estonia and former Soviet Union areas need to be specially highlighted as they are the foundation of some of the most spectacular collection-based discoveries to date.
Another strength of the fossil collections lies in micropalaeontology. Ostracods from drill cores were intensively studied starting in 1950s and systematic studies of acid-resistant microfossils commenced in 1960s. At present, TalTech holds key collections of several lower Palaeozoic microfossil groups such as conodonts (by Peep Männik and Viive Viira), chitinozoans (by Ralf Männil, Jaak Nõlvak and Viiu Nestor), ostracods (by Lembit Sarv and Tõnu Meidla) and scolecodonts (by Olle Hints).
In 1991, Estonia regained independence from the Soviet Union and this initiated many changes also in research institutions, their structure, funding, and research focus. The Academy of Sciences was reorganised and most of its institutes were transferred to universities. The Institute of Geology joined Tallinn University of Technology in 1997, and since 2017 its official name is the Department of Geology. While the number of geologists, and especially palaeontologists, has decreased during the last decades, the curation and accessibility of geoscience collections have improved considerably over this period.
Since 2004, all Estonia's research collections held in universities are funded by the Ministry of Education and Research as part of the so-called "national collections". This political decision has ensured base-level funding and the continuous maintenance of the collections to date. Since 2006, TalTech geoscience collections are housed at the university campus, in rooms specially built for the storage of geological collections. Moreover, the institute's field station and drill core repository established in 1973, has been renovated and new core storage and study facilities have been built in 2011–2015 as part of the national research infrastructure NATARC (https://natarc.ut.ee).
Curation and usage of collections is nowadays unimaginable without proper electronic cataloguing. Initial efforts in creating collections database started at TalTech in 1996, and by 2000, a multi-user networked database system was in place. In 2002, we were able to provide our specimen-level data online at a designated web portal. Since then, the in-house developed system named SARV has evolved into a multi-institutional data management and publication platform that has reached far beyond simple collection catalogue. Its relational data model host over 150 tables and serves a number of web-based user interfaces via APIs, including the Estonian Geoscience Collections Portal (https://geocollections.info), Baltic Fossils Portal (https://fossiilid.info), and Geoscience Research Data Repository SARV-DOI (https://doi.geocollections.info). By now, all Estonian geological data, databases and e-services have been gathered on the web portal e-Maapõu (https://geoloogia.info).To foster openness and knowledge-sharing all our recent software developments are made open source and available in GitHub (https://github.com/geocollections).
The progress in geoscience database development at TalTech has been made possible by the national research infrastructures NATARC and DiSSCo Estonia (see also https://dissco.eu). As part of the latter initiative, we are contributing to the updated version of GeoCASe, the Geoscience Collection Access Service (https://geocase.eu), which aims at creating easy e-access to all European geological collections, much like the GBIF (https://gbif.org) is serving the biodiversity research community.
All researchers are welcome to study the geoscience collections held in TalTech. We would be happy to host you, process loan requests and serve the community by making our collection-related data easily accessible online. Check it out at https://geocollections.info!
• We host visiting researchers
• We lend specimens and geological samples
• We make digital loans
• We mediate scientific literature on Estonian and Baltic geology
• We store geological data