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Faculty and staff at the University of Montana's Paleontology Center have spent the last nine months organizing and categorizing the university's fossil collection.

A grant from the National Science Foundation and matching money from the university raised $500,000 to renovate the Paleontology Center and purchase a new organizational system, which increased the center's storage capacity by 30 percent.

The collection, which has existed since 1989, has about 100,000 fossils including vertebrates, invertebrates, plants and some dinosaurs. Many of the specimens were millions of years old and were excavated in Montana and the Northwest.

Before the new setup, the fossil collection had been stored in crates piled to the ceiling in the basement of a campus building, making it difficult to find individual items.

"If you were lucky, it would take an hour," said Kallie Moore, the collection manager hired in January. "If you weren't lucky, you may never find it."

George Stanley, director of the Paleontology Center, said UM's center isn't trying to compete with the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. MSU is focused on dinosaur paleontology while Stanley says UM focuses on everything else.

The center attracts 1,000 local students for tours every year.

Stanley said the specimens are clues to uncovering the mysteries of the past. With global changes, present-day specimens are dying. He said the collection is a way to preserve the species and diversity of past life.

The center launched a new Web site in September that includes a listing of items in the collection.

CLICK HERE to visit the National Science Foundation site.

CLICK HERE to visit The University of Montana Paleontology Center site.

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