[REPOST] Origins of National Fossil Day – Vince Santucci

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Today is the 5th Annual National Fossil Day!  Below is the original post from 2013.  Please be sure to check local museums for events or check this wonderful resource here: http://nature.nps.gov/geology/nationalfossilday/events.cfm

(Per the National Park Service, the gift for President Obama mentioned below will not be given this year.)

——————————–

National Fossil Day—now in its 4th year—may be in its infancy, but it has been 30 years in the making, according to Vince Santucci.

Santucci–Senior Geologist, Paleontologist, and Washington Liaison for the National Park Service (Geologic Resources Division)–discussed the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act and National Fossil Day by phone a week into the current government shutdown.

Paleontology vs Archeology

“Initially in the 70’s,” he explained, “there was an interest in developing protective legislation for both archeological resources and for paleontological resources.”

Many people–including some magazines upon recent review of their websites–confuse paleontology and archeology. While both revolve around ancient remains, they are distinctly different sciences.

Archeology is the study of ancient human remains and artifacts.  The key word here is “human”. Paleontology is the study of fossils—ancient mammals, dinosaurs, fish, bacteria: prehistoric life unrelated to humans.

Santucci credits this confusion as one of the reasons to have separate legislation for the two respective sciences.

The Archeological Resources Protection Act was signed into law in 1979, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the paleontological equivalent became law.

Fossil Theft

“As part of that very long process to establish the new law, we wanted to make sure that it had positive consequences in a wide range of aspects for paleontology. It wasn’t just a law-enforcement law to provide stricter penalties for theft of fossils.”

“What amazed me,” Santucci said, discussing his graduate fieldwork during the mid-1980’s, “as I was out in the field learning the geology of the Badlands, working with visiting geologists, that we were encountering people that were stealing fossils from within Badlands National Park on a regular basis.”

He described one person who had been collecting fossils for 25 years from that very park.

“When he was given a $50 fine for that, I realized that the need for some sort of legislation similar to the Archeological Resources Protection Act was needed by the Federal Government.”

These were but some of the instances that prompted him to obtain law enforcement training.  He explained that he “came on board in 1991 at Petrified Forest National Park as the government’s only ‘pistol-packing paleontologist’.”

Creation of National Fossil Day

The National Forest Service, the Smithsonian and the Department of the Interior worked together on a report to Congress in 2000, according to Santucci.  A lot of the language from this report was used in the legislation that became the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act.

“One of the provisions is one sentence,” he said, “and it basically provides a mandate that the federal agencies shall help to increase public awareness about fossils and paleontology.”

Based on that one sentence, those working to implement the new law decided to “go out and make some partners, do something positive, and establish this National Fossil Day.”

President Obama – Appreciation in a Big Way

Santucci said its popularity was at once a surprise and a success.  It “went viral within the Department of Interior and wound up going to the White House.”

In October 2010—the first National Fossil Day—the National Park Service was presented with a letter from President Obama, the very president who had signed the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act into law the previous year.

“Our Chief Public Information Officer surprised us and showed up on the National Mall in his class-A dress uniform, and he presented to us a letter from President Obama.”

This was, Santucci continued with no small amount of enthusiasm, an important and meaningful gesture to those in the National Park Service (NPS).  The law that brought this event to light took 30 years, and here were wishes for “a wonderful first National Fossil Day” from the President who made it possible.

And the National Park Service is indeed grateful.

Santucci mentioned that the NPS “is working to extend their appreciation in a big way to President Obama.”

(Stay tuned!  While they are not ready to publically announce their plans, you can read more about that exciting news on this blog when the moment arrives.)

Why mid-October?

For the past four years, National Fossil Day has been held on a date in mid-October, and that date is significant.

“The absolute first organization that we reached out to offering the idea for National Fossil Day was an organization called the America Geosciences Institute (AGI). The reason that we targeted AGI is that the National Park Service was already partnering with AGI for Earth Science Week. Earth Science Week is held every year, and it’s been going on for 15 years prior to National Fossil Day. It is an effective outreach program during the second week of October every year promoting earth science.  Through this, AGI reaches between 20-25 million school children and teachers across the country.”

Much of the Fossil Day initiative focuses heavily on activities geared toward children.  Part of that may be deliberate.  When asked about challenges he sees to paleontology in general today, Santucci was quick to point out our country’s struggle with science education in schools.

But he was equally quick to point out that the goal of National Fossil Day is to include people of all ages.

“It’s not just designed for scientists, and it’s not just designed for teachers, and it’s not just designed for kids or federal bureaucrats. It is designed to reach out and touch anybody who’s interested in fossils in any way that they are.”

Interest Grows

With 60 new partners, National Fossil Day now has over 280 partners.  They include scientific organizations, libraries, museums, educational organizations and amateur groups.

The NPS employed two people full-time in order to maintain the National Fossil Day website and update information from their partners.

Santucci mentioned that some partners, for myriad reasons, are unable to celebrate on the actual day designated as National Fossil Day.

“Some of our partners will have their events in the middle of summer because their site might be closed down during the winter months, just because of budget and weather and things like that.”

The NPS response?

“We say ‘absolutely’. It doesn’t have to be on the second Wednesday of October to be National Fossil Day. It’s in the whole spirit of promoting learning and science education.”

“We never envisioned when we sat down with the American Geosciences Institute and said ‘let’s try to establish this National Fossil Day’ that it would have grown as it has. So we have colleagues over in England, Australia, Germany, and China who are saying ‘let’s take this idea and go international and create an International Fossil Day’.  So there’s a whole team that’s plotting out our next undertaking.”

He also described plans to work in more depth with the Children’s Summer Learning Program, linked to libraries throughout the country.

“We’re going to do a whole campaign to help every library across America to establish a reading program called ‘Dig Into Reading’ where it features dinosaurs and fossils.  Libraries will have books available and displays and exhibits to attract kids to come in during the summer and pick up a book or two and read as part of their summer vacations.”

“National Fossil Day has evolved into something far bigger than we had ever anticipated. And the support from our partners has just been tremendous. And we never would have been able to accomplish the things that we have without that very strong National Fossil Day partnership.”

National Fossil Day 2013 – Government Shutdown

When discussing this day and its creation, the government shutdown had already been in place for several days.  The idea that it might stretch through mid-October seemed remote at that time but possible.

In response to questions about it, Santucci was optimistic.

“The National Park Service and the other federal partners like the Smithsonian may not be able to participate on October 16th.  But the vast majority of our 280 partners are non-federal.  And they continue to move forward; they are going to sustain activities. So Congress hasn’t shut them down.”

He finished by saying, “Yes, it’s going to go on. We may not be able to participate on the National Mall as we’d hoped, but we’re happy for all of those events that will occur nationwide.”

———————-

For more information on National Fossil Day, please see this link when the government shutdown is over:  http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/nationalfossilday

To see a picture of Vince Santucci, go to page 32 in this book: Hunting Dinosaurs by Louie Psihoyos and John Knoebber

For more information on Earth Science Week: http://www.earthsciweek.org/

Many, many thanks to Vince Santucci for his time and his valuable insight! 

And a T-Rex-sized thank you to everyone who brought about and continues to work on National Fossil Day!

NFD 2010 - Sketch for logo

(Sketch of the 2010 National Fossil Day logo provided by Vince Santucci)

Origins of National Fossil Day – Vince Santucci

National Fossil Day—now in its 4th year—may be in its infancy, but it has been 30 years in the making, according to Vince Santucci.

Santucci–Senior Geologist, Paleontologist, and Washington Liaison for the National Park Service (Geologic Resources Division)–discussed the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act and National Fossil Day by phone a week into the current government shutdown.

Paleontology vs Archeology

“Initially in the 70’s,” he explained, “there was an interest in developing protective legislation for both archeological resources and for paleontological resources.”

Many people–including some magazines upon recent review of their websites–confuse paleontology and archeology. While both revolve around ancient remains, they are distinctly different sciences.

Archeology is the study of ancient human remains and artifacts.  The key word here is “human”. Paleontology is the study of fossils—ancient mammals, dinosaurs, fish, bacteria: prehistoric life unrelated to humans.

Santucci credits this confusion as one of the reasons to have separate legislation for the two respective sciences.

The Archeological Resources Protection Act was signed into law in 1979, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the paleontological equivalent became law.

Fossil Theft

“As part of that very long process to establish the new law, we wanted to make sure that it had positive consequences in a wide range of aspects for paleontology. It wasn’t just a law-enforcement law to provide stricter penalties for theft of fossils.”

“What amazed me,” Santucci said, discussing his graduate fieldwork during the mid-1980’s, “as I was out in the field learning the geology of the Badlands, working with visiting geologists, that we were encountering people that were stealing fossils from within Badlands National Park on a regular basis.”

He described one person who had been collecting fossils for 25 years from that very park.

“When he was given a $50 fine for that, I realized that the need for some sort of legislation similar to the Archeological Resources Protection Act was needed by the Federal Government.”

These were but some of the instances that prompted him to obtain law enforcement training.  He explained that he “came on board in 1991 at Petrified Forest National Park as the government’s only ‘pistol-packing paleontologist’.”

Creation of National Fossil Day

The National Forest Service, the Smithsonian and the Department of the Interior worked together on a report to Congress in 2000, according to Santucci.  A lot of the language from this report was used in the legislation that became the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act.

“One of the provisions is one sentence,” he said, “and it basically provides a mandate that the federal agencies shall help to increase public awareness about fossils and paleontology.”

Based on that one sentence, those working to implement the new law decided to “go out and make some partners, do something positive, and establish this National Fossil Day.”

President Obama – Appreciation in a Big Way

Santucci said its popularity was at once a surprise and a success.  It “went viral within the Department of Interior and wound up going to the White House.”

In October 2010—the first National Fossil Day—the National Park Service was presented with a letter from President Obama, the very president who had signed the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act into law the previous year.

“Our Chief Public Information Officer surprised us and showed up on the National Mall in his class-A dress uniform, and he presented to us a letter from President Obama.”

This was, Santucci continued with no small amount of enthusiasm, an important and meaningful gesture to those in the National Park Service (NPS).  The law that brought this event to light took 30 years, and here were wishes for “a wonderful first National Fossil Day” from the President who made it possible.

And the National Park Service is indeed grateful.

Santucci mentioned that the NPS “is working to extend their appreciation in a big way to President Obama.”

(Stay tuned!  While they are not ready to publically announce their plans, you can read more about that exciting news on this blog when the moment arrives.)

Why mid-October?

For the past four years, National Fossil Day has been held on a date in mid-October, and that date is significant.

“The absolute first organization that we reached out to offering the idea for National Fossil Day was an organization called the America Geosciences Institute (AGI). The reason that we targeted AGI is that the National Park Service was already partnering with AGI for Earth Science Week. Earth Science Week is held every year, and it’s been going on for 15 years prior to National Fossil Day. It is an effective outreach program during the second week of October every year promoting earth science.  Through this, AGI reaches between 20-25 million school children and teachers across the country.”

Much of the Fossil Day initiative focuses heavily on activities geared toward children.  Part of that may be deliberate.  When asked about challenges he sees to paleontology in general today, Santucci was quick to point out our country’s struggle with science education in schools.

But he was equally quick to point out that the goal of National Fossil Day is to include people of all ages.

“It’s not just designed for scientists, and it’s not just designed for teachers, and it’s not just designed for kids or federal bureaucrats. It is designed to reach out and touch anybody who’s interested in fossils in any way that they are.”

Interest Grows

With 60 new partners, National Fossil Day now has over 280 partners.  They include scientific organizations, libraries, museums, educational organizations and amateur groups.

The NPS employed two people full-time in order to maintain the National Fossil Day website and update information from their partners.

Santucci mentioned that some partners, for myriad reasons, are unable to celebrate on the actual day designated as National Fossil Day.

“Some of our partners will have their events in the middle of summer because their site might be closed down during the winter months, just because of budget and weather and things like that.”

The NPS response?

“We say ‘absolutely’. It doesn’t have to be on the second Wednesday of October to be National Fossil Day. It’s in the whole spirit of promoting learning and science education.”

“We never envisioned when we sat down with the American Geosciences Institute and said ‘let’s try to establish this National Fossil Day’ that it would have grown as it has. So we have colleagues over in England, Australia, Germany, and China who are saying ‘let’s take this idea and go international and create an International Fossil Day’.  So there’s a whole team that’s plotting out our next undertaking.”

He also described plans to work in more depth with the Children’s Summer Learning Program, linked to libraries throughout the country.

“We’re going to do a whole campaign to help every library across America to establish a reading program called ‘Dig Into Reading’ where it features dinosaurs and fossils.  Libraries will have books available and displays and exhibits to attract kids to come in during the summer and pick up a book or two and read as part of their summer vacations.”

“National Fossil Day has evolved into something far bigger than we had ever anticipated. And the support from our partners has just been tremendous. And we never would have been able to accomplish the things that we have without that very strong National Fossil Day partnership.”

National Fossil Day 2013 – Government Shutdown

When discussing this day and its creation, the government shutdown had already been in place for several days.  The idea that it might stretch through mid-October seemed remote at that time but possible.

In response to questions about it, Santucci was optimistic.

“The National Park Service and the other federal partners like the Smithsonian may not be able to participate on October 16th.  But the vast majority of our 280 partners are non-federal.  And they continue to move forward; they are going to sustain activities. So Congress hasn’t shut them down.”

He finished by saying, “Yes, it’s going to go on. We may not be able to participate on the National Mall as we’d hoped, but we’re happy for all of those events that will occur nationwide.”

———————-

For more information on National Fossil Day, please see this link when the government shutdown is over:  http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/nationalfossilday

To see a picture of Vince Santucci, go to page 32 in this book: Hunting Dinosaurs by Louie Psihoyos and John Knoebber

For more information on Earth Science Week: http://www.earthsciweek.org/

Many, many thanks to Vince Santucci for his time and his valuable insight! 

And a T-Rex-sized thank you to everyone who brought about and continues to work on National Fossil Day!

NFD 2010 - Sketch for logo

(Sketch of the 2010 National Fossil Day logo provided by Vince Santucci)

Fossil Festival and activities – Museum of the Rockies

The Museum of the Rockies–located in Bozeman, Montana–has an enormous collection of fossils.  It is also home to Jack Horner, known even to those who do not follow paleontology as the consultant to the “Jurassic Park” films (next movie potentially released in 2015).  When I connected with him earlier this year, the museum had, among many others, over 100 Triceratops fossils.

The Boston Museum of Science held an entire day of presentations by paleontologists in March 2013 called “Dinosaur Day“.  Two of those presentations were done by Jack Horner himself, and John Scannella, mentioned below.  It was a fascinating day, so I am a bit envious of those who live near Bozeman and are able to visit this museum regularly.

The Museum of the Rockies has been celebrating National Fossil Day since its inception in 2010. The Fossil Festival events they have planned are listed further below.

Currently, there is a lot of activity surrounding the Wankel T-Rex (so named for its discoverer, Kathy Wankel, in 1988), a fossil they are trying to move to the Smithsonian.

Nonetheless, Angie Weikert, Education & Public Programs Director, generously responded to some of my questions:

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1. What events occur during National Fossil Day?

We host three different events to celebrate with the Fossil Fest only being one of them.  This is our second annual Fossil Fest to celebrate National Fossil Day.

Fossil Festival
Tuesday, October 15| 3:30 – 6:30pm | Free with Museum admission
Join MOR in celebrating National Fossil Day.  Children ages 5-12 can become a “Junior Paleontologist” and receive an official badge or certificate from the National Park Service by completing fossil activities.  Explore the ways that paleontologists work, learn about Earth’s history, ancient plants and animals, and discover how you can protect fossils through engaging hands-on activities.

AFTERSCHOOL PROGRAMS (GRADES K–5)

Digging Dinos
Monday, October 14 or Tuesday, October 15| 3:45 – 5:00pm| $10 for members, $15 for non-members
Get your hands dirty as you learn how a fossil finds its way from the ground to a museum display.  Play a role in preparing a real dinosaur bone. Wear clothes that can get dirty – this class is going to get messy!
Tours for Tots (3–5 years)
Tues & Thurs: 10-11am | Wed: 2-3pm | Free for members, $5 for non-members
This program continues our efforts to introduce little ones (ages 3 – 5) to the wonders of museum learning. Each program offers a chance to ask questions and explore with a hands-on activity. We offer the same program three times a month.  Pre-registration is not required unless you are a preschool group.*

Fantastic Fossils
October 15 – 17

2. What is the oldest fossil you have in your collection?

Trilobites from the Horseshoe Hills north of Manhattan, MT are approximately 355 million years old.

3. What is the smallest fossil you have in your collection? (I ask because so many of them are enormous!)

Algae and insects (mites) from Canyon Ferry, near Helena, MT (approximately 25 million years old)

4. Are there any anecdotes about fossils, the museum or reactions to your collection that you would like to share?

MOR’s Paleontology research is always making waves in the established understanding of dinosaurs.  Several years ago our research found that two different dinosaurs were actually just different ages of the same species.  John Scannella’s research determined that Torosaurus was the adult stage of Triceratops.  Not long after John’s research was published, he received a letter from the mother of a 5 year old.  This mother was angry with John because her 5 year old would not stop crying.  Torosaurus was the little boy’s favorite dinosaur.  He did not want Toro to be a Triceratops.  The mother asked John to change his mind about his Toro and Trike research.  He politely declined.

To see more info on events at the Museum of the Rockies, please visit their website: http://www.museumoftherockies.org/Calendar.aspx

For more information on John Scannella and his work: http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2010/09/torosaurus-is-triceratops-5-questions-for-paleontologist-john-scannella/

http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/msu-paleontologist-questions-traditional-views-of-triceratops-torosaurus/article_8ece1ff0-8f9a-11df-a582-001cc4c002e0.html

For a fascinating talk by Jack Horner of the theories behind Triceratops, please see his TED talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/jack_horner_shape_shifting_dinosaurs.html

For more information about the Wankel T-Rex and its transition, please see Meg Gannon’s piece from LiveScience: http://www.livescience.com/40218-government-shutdown-smithsonian-t-rex.html

Many, many thanks to Angie Weikert!!

TX Natural Science Center – Events planned for National Fossil Day

Celebrating its 4th National Fossil Day, the Texas Memorial Museum in Austin offers events for children, the general public and teachers.

This museum is the exhibit hall of the Texas Natural Science Center (TNSC) at the University of Texas at Austin.  The museum and scientific collections that are part of TNSC work together to create awareness, understanding and appreciation of the past, present and future of biological diversity, especially that of the state of Texas.

Within TNSC are the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory, the Non-Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory and the Texas Natural History CollectionsTNSC’s website states, “All exhibits and education/outreach programs are based on the Center’s collection of 6 million specimens, most of which are from Texas…”

Although not all of the specimens are fossils or from Texas, that number speaks to a wealth of natural resources and research programs and opportunities.

“[W]e in the Austin area are fortunate to be surrounded by fossiliferous Cretaceous limestone, which is the source of many discoveries of fossils by the community,” explained Dr. Pamela R. Owen, Senior Biodiversity Educator at TNSC.

Two fossils on exhibit and found in Texas are the Texas Pterosaur, described by the TNSC website as “the largest flying creature ever found”, and the Mosasaur, a substantial sea creature.  (A recent study of a Mosasaur fossil in Jordan found that they may have had shark tails. You can read about that here: http://phys.org/news/2013-09-mosasaur-fossil-early-lizards-tails.html)

Oldest Fossils

When asked to name the oldest fossil in its collection, Dr. Owen said, “We have a sectioned stromatolite formed by Precambrian cyanobacteria from Minnesota on exhibit at Texas Memorial Museum.”

Stromatolites are layered structures, most of which were built by cyanobacteria (aquatic photosynthetic bacteria with a long evolutionary history). These fossils are, in a way, the footprints of the activity of cyanobacteria, although some have been found that do have the bacteria trapped within them. Stromatolites date as far back as 3.5 billion years.

Chris Sagebiel, Collections Manager of the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory (VPL), named two different fossils as the oldest in the VPL Collection.

“Geologically speaking,” he wrote, “our oldest specimens are from Ordovician age rocks in the Arbuckle Mountains in Oklahoma.”

The Ordovician age, as we understand it today, was largely populated with sea creatures. There is evidence of primitive plants and life on land toward the end of the Ordovician.  Horseshoe crabs—creatures we can see now on East Coast shores—are thought to have begun during this period.

“Our collection is home to one of the oldest bony fossils: a fragmentary skull and some scales from Eriptychius, a jawless fish that lived about 450 million years ago.”

Eriptychius,” he continued, “is not terribly well understood. What has been found are only bits of skull and scales. Our Eriptychius fossils are not fully prepped out of the rock, so unless you were looking for Eriptychius fossils, the specimens look like any other rock. Some of the isolated scales have been cut for thin sections. Typically, a 30 micron thick section is taken from the scale to look at the micro-structure of the bone and scales. We do know that they had external armor, at least forming a head shield. They may also have been one of the earliest animals with enamel.”

Below are two images of the Eriptychius fossil and the section he described:

Eriptychius from Chris Sagebiel Eriptychius section from Chris Sagebiel

“…[T]he fossil is just the dark gray bit in the very center of the photo directly across from my thumb and directly below my index fingertip.”

“In terms of human years,” he explained, “the oldest is the Cope-Cummins fossil collection, collected in the early 1890s. Cummins was an itinerant preacher and geologist who collected fossils as part of a larger state geological survey that was conducted under the supervision of Edwin T. Dumble. Most of the fossils were sent back east to noted paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, who reported on these for the Dumble survey report and elsewhere.”

He sent the image of the lower molars of Equus conversidens below:

Cope-Cummins from Chris Sagebiel

2012 National Fossil Day – Mammoths!

Last year, National Fossil Day events at the TX Memorial Museum centered around mammoths. The theme reflected the 2012 artwork forthat day by the National Park Service.

NFD 2012 Logo

[image of 2012 National Fossil Day, courtesy of the National Fossil Day website]

“My gallery talk,” Dr. Owen wrote in an email, describing her ‘Meet the Mammoths’ presentation, “was next to our Ice Age exhibit in the Hall of Geology and Paleontology, and I set up my table adjacent to the skull and tusks of a Columbian mammoth. That afternoon I had several family groups in attendance at each of my two scheduled presentations, so the energy level was pretty high and the kids all wanted to share their knowledge about mammoths (and the fact that they have seen at least one of the Ice Age movies!)

“We talked about the differences between Columbian mammoths and woolly mammoths and everyone had a chance to gently feel a molar from each species.  I also had some large tusk and bone fragments for the visitors to see and feel.”

2013 National Fossil Day – Fossil ID’s, Teacher Workshops, and Common Misconceptions

Teachers are able to participate in workshops hosted the TX Memorial Museum.  One of the workshops notes that there will be a discussion about “common misconceptions about the fossil record.”

Dr. Owen explained, “First of all, fossils are relatively rare; most organisms are not preserved after death.  The remains of organisms stand a better chance of fossilization if they are rapidly buried by sediment.  And not all fossils are preserved or even discovered.   But the fossil record is complete enough to document evolutionary events and changes in biodiversity over millions of years.”

“One misconception,” she continued, “is that all fossils are simply impressions or organisms ‘turned to stone.’  Fossilization processes vary, resulting in differences in preservation.  For example, wood, bone and shell can be altered by mineralizing solutions.  Minerals in the water moving through sediment can fill pore spaces or completely replace the original material.  Fossils preserved in this manner include ‘petrified wood’, pyritized sea shells, and dinosaur bone.  Sometimes organic remains are preserved by compression, compaction and/or carbonization.  Coal is formed from ancient plants by these fossilization processes.  On the other end of the spectrum, we have fossils that are essentially unaltered, such as the frozen mammoths discovered in Siberia.”

“In the workshop, we will also discuss misconceptions about purported ‘gaps’ in the fossil record, radiometric dating of fossils and the formation of fossil fuels.”

(For more information regarding Lyuba, the best preserved baby mammoth found in Siberia to-date, please see this post: https://mostlymammoths.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/mammoth-article-qa-dr-daniel-fisher-renowned-paleontologist/)

————————

What prompted you into a career in paleontology?

Dr. Pamela Owen:

I have always been interested in natural history, and as a child, I did go through a “dinosaur phase” but mammals have always held my fascination.  I did not take a paleontological path in my studies until I started work on my master’s degree in biology.  My thesis research was on the neck morphology of saber-toothed cats, American “lions”, coyotes and dire wolves at the Page Museum of La Brea Discoveries (at the infamous La Brea Tar Pits) in Los Angeles, California.  More recently I have been focusing on badgers.  I described and named a new species of extinct American badger as part of my studies for the Ph.D.  I remain very interested in the evolutionary history of mammalian predators and enjoy my career as a museum scientist and educator.

Chris Sagebiel:

I really couldn’t say how I became a paleontologist. I just have always been one. We had a farm with fossil bivalves and such poking out of the rocks. Several family members have degrees in geology, though none of them are practicing geologists, we always talk about geology. However, I was in my senior year of college before it dawned on me that I could make a career in paleontology. I was lucky that a spot was open for me in the graduate program at UT, and just happened to have a museum job open up when I completed my graduate degree.

If you are in the Austin area, please do not miss out on these events or the chance to see the fossils at the TX Memorial Museum!

Fossil Identifications at the Paleo Lab: 9 a.m.–noon and 2-4 p.m. Fossil Dig Pit: Young paleontologists can make their own discoveries from 2-4 p.m. Teacher Workshop (pre-registration required): Deep Time Explorations, 6-9 p.m. For more information send an email to Pamela R. Owen or call her at 512-232-5511. http://www.utexas.edu/tmm/events/nfd/ http://www.utexas.edu/tmm/education/profdev/deep-time/index.html

Many, many thanks to Dr. Pamela Owen and Chris Sagebiel!