Review of the cellulose acetate peel method and the physical and digital curation of coal balls

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Coal balls, in which fossil plants are preserved in permineralized peat deposits, have widely been described from coal deposits representing the tropical forest of the Carboniferous. Coal ball preparation techniques have evolved over the past century, with the cellulose acetate peel method becoming the standard in the 1950s. While coal ball research is not as active as it has been in the past, large collections of coal balls and their respective peels still form a large part of many museum and university collections. This contribution aims to review coal ball preparation methods, curation, and the digital archiving of peels to create a cohesive guide for researchers working with coal balls and other petrified plant material. The physical and digital curation of cellulose acetate peels and other types of coal ball specimens is critical for long-term preservation and accessibility. Physical curation involves embedding coal balls in media to slow pyrite deterioration. Digital curation creates high-resolution scans of peels, which can be shared and accessed online. Cellulose acetate peels and their digital curation are a valuable and accessible technique for the analysis of coal balls, and physical and digital curation ensures long-term preservation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere11556
JournalApplications in Plant Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2023


  • Carboniferous
  • coal ball
  • imaging
  • paleobotany
  • peel method

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Plant Science


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