Unique Pacific mollusc collection donated to UMMZ


Aug 18, 2014 Bookmark and Share

A sampling of the thousands of mollusc shells donated to the U-M Museum of Zoology by Vern Carroll, the late U-M professor emeritus of anthropology.

A sampling of the thousands of mollusc shells donated to the U-M Museum of Zoology by Vern Carroll, the late U-M professor emeritus of anthropology. Photo credit: Dale Austin.

Vern Carroll, the late University of Michigan professor emeritus of anthropology, donated thousands of mollusc shells to the U-M Museum of Zoology Mollusc Division, shortly before his death in 2013.

The donation encompasses the native fauna of terrestrial and near shore mollusks from Nukuoro, a tiny Micronesian atoll in the Pacific Ocean, collected in the early 1960s. An atoll is a circular island made of coral, surrounding a lagoon.

Carroll and his wife, Raymonde Carroll, arrived in Nukuoro in 1963. Together with their Micronesian hosts, they gathered collections of the ecosystem’s fauna, including molluscs, birds, marine invertebrates and fish. The collection provides a window into the fauna in that part of the world before it was heavily modified by trade and modernization, said Tanya Dewey, a research program officer with the Animal Diversity Web.

They collected duplicates due to the risk of loss via shipwreck, an event that came to fruition when a ship went down and some collections were lost. The duplicate mollusc collection is held at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu. The shells include those of giant clams and oysters, as well as conch and tiny marine clams and snails. Some of them appear to have been shaped and used as tools.

Carroll completed his doctoral work in cultural anthropology with a comprehensive ethnographic study on the people who live on Nukuoro, including documentation of their language and history. He lived on the island for several years with his wife and their infant daughter, Tama. He published the book, “Nukuoro Lexicon” and many other pieces on the language and culture of Nukuoro.

Carroll came to U-M in 1972 as an associate professor of anthropology. He already had an international reputation, both as a leading comparativist of the languages, societies, cultures and populations of the South Pacific, and as an innovator in anthropological fieldwork methodologies. He was promoted to professor of anthropology in 1975 and retired from active faculty status on Dec. 31, 1993, after a productive career as a teacher and researcher.

Read more on U-M’s Faculty History Project.