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Amateur Fossil Collectors are Essential to Paleontology


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Amateur Fossil Collectors are Essential to Paleontology

Kerste Milik

 

“Someone needs to get the fossils out of the ground or off the beach. There are far too many fossils out there for professional paleontologists to salvage and they are continuously being exposed,” said Boessenecker. This exposure leads to fossils being eroded and lost to science, unless amateurs continue to collect. “If we don't collect the fossils, and we're rude or dismissive or simply not proactive about our amateur otreach efforts - then donation streams have a very real danger of drying up,” he said.

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Fossildude19

Moved to FOSSIL NEWS.   ;)

 

Way to go, @Boesse

 

The study itself:  LINK

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without amateur palaeontologist with good skills and knowledge scientific research in palaeontology is dead. Thats my opinion after 35 years of research and 45 of collecting fossils.

But, collectors with experience or palaeontologist have to educate new collectors or ones without big experience. Otherwise to many things could be destroyed

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FossilNerd
4 hours ago, Fossildude19 said:

Way to go, @Boesse


:DittoSign:

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Derek Frost

Well then, I guess I'm making a difference in the fossil collecting world lol. But seriously I have found a cephalopod about 6-7 inches tall, 4-5 inches wide, and at least an inch and a half thick. I held onto that fossil for 15 yrs until I visited a fossil shop just up the road and he wanted to buy it. So I sold it to him. I stopped by that fossil shop a month or so later to show my stepson said cephalopod, and the guy who bought it sait it was on loan to a museum in Canada! Needless to say, I was excited at the thought of so many people enjoying looking at the fossil that I found. I've had people say "You got ripped off" but I dont see it that way at all. Im very proud of that find and even prouder that so many people had the chance to enjoy it. By the way it was found in a small creek in Adams county, Ohio. It was laying in a couple inches of water below a blue clay deposit in the bank about the size of a volkswagon bug. 

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Shellseeker

I think the issue is incredibly difficult. From my experience, the people who collect the vast majority of fossils are not "amateur Paleontologists", who seek to acquire the fossils for a number of reasons, including the enjoyment of the hunt, personal pride in the accumulation of a fantastic collection, and just the pure financial motive, selling the best fossils for money. I do not doubt that there are many reasons, but from my experience, the majority of fossil hunters are not just inching for the opportunity to donate an extremely rare fossil potentially worth thousands of dollars.

I have worked on my own attitude for 15 years. I make it clear to the Paleontologists in my State and my friends that I will donate any fossil that the scientists request. But I am fortunate that I do not need the money. It would just sit in my private collection versus a public collection. I have fossils worth thousands but in all those cases, the State Universities have lots of equivalent and rarer versions of the same fossil. 

But I have not been tested, finding a unique and rare fossil like a complete tooth whale jaw with all the teeth intact, and having my University Paleontologists request the donation. But I am preparing for the day I will be tested.

 

I think as a community, we should discuss how to best encourage donations from within our community and remove barriers to the donation of the rarest fossils and also generate respect between scientists and amateurs.  Ken @digit likely has a view.

 

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DPS Ammonite

Here is link to Boessenecker paper

 

Boessenecker, Robert W. 2022. Amateur collectors are critical to the study of fossil vertebrates: A case study from two Neogene localities in Northern California (Santa Margarita and Purisima formations). Palaeontologia Electronica, 25(1):a10. https://doi.org/10.26879/1199
palaeo-electronica.org/content/2022/3517-amateur-paleontology

 

https://palaeo-electronica.org/content/2022/3517-amateur-paleontology

Edited by DPS Ammonite
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1 hour ago, Shellseeker said:

I think as a community, we should discuss how to best encourage donations from within our community and remove barriers to the donation of the rarest fossils and also generate respect between scientists and amateurs.  Ken @digit likely has a view.

I think that some amateur paleontologists would be thrilled with donating Scientifically Important Specimens and would be proud to have their fossils as part of a museum's collection while others enjoy having their fossils in their collection and would be hard pressed to be talked out of them. Those in the middle ground might be swayed to donate but there will always be a segment who will want to keep their best finds.

 

The Peace River Paleo Project (PRiPP) at FLMNH the museum is gathering fossil material from amateurs who hunt the Peace. I had Richard look through my more interesting finds (mammal teeth) to see if any would be of use for the project. He selected around a dozen of my rarest and most unusual finds (in my limited collection of fossils from the Peace). I was happy to have them as part of the project. I also included a bunch of large chunks of mammoth teeth (large partial teeth) which I had sitting around on top of a display case. The only mammoth teeth I have left are a complete one I found back in 2014 and a baby tooth I found in the first months we started hunting the Peace. Both of these are presently on display at the museum as part of an exhibit. The digital imaging department has already made a 3D scan of the complete tooth. It is a nice one and they may use the data to 3D print copies for use in school classes. Ultimately, this tooth is promised to the museum--maybe even sooner than later. I enjoy having the tooth sitting where I can see it while walking through the house. It reminds me of a wildly memorable day on the river. Had I simply purchased this tooth and did not have the fantastic memory of pulling it from the sand in the river I'd not be at all attached to it.

 

Providing replicas of the donated fossils is one way of allowing the amateur to still have something to show off and yet have the SIS be studied by researchers. Educating amateurs and empowering interactions between professionals and amateurs is one way of encouraging more donations but it will not change everybody's minds.

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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Thanks for the attention and all the kind words! This manuscript was a labor of love and I started on it six years ago in 2016 shortly after starting here on the east coast.

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Meganeura
On 8/24/2022 at 5:50 PM, digit said:

I think that some amateur paleontologists would be thrilled with donating Scientifically Important Specimens and would be proud to have their fossils as part of a museum's collection while others enjoy having their fossils in their collection and would be hard pressed to be talked out of them. Those in the middle ground might be swayed to donate but there will always be a segment who will want to keep their best finds.

 

The Peace River Paleo Project (PRiPP) at FLMNH the museum is gathering fossil material from amateurs who hunt the Peace. I had Richard look through my more interesting finds (mammal teeth) to see if any would be of use for the project. He selected around a dozen of my rarest and most unusual finds (in my limited collection of fossils from the Peace). I was happy to have them as part of the project. I also included a bunch of large chunks of mammoth teeth (large partial teeth) which I had sitting around on top of a display case. The only mammoth teeth I have left are a complete one I found back in 2014 and a baby tooth I found in the first months we started hunting the Peace. Both of these are presently on display at the museum as part of an exhibit. The digital imaging department has already made a 3D scan of the complete tooth. It is a nice one and they may use the data to 3D print copies for use in school classes. Ultimately, this tooth is promised to the museum--maybe even sooner than later. I enjoy having the tooth sitting where I can see it while walking through the house. It reminds me of a wildly memorable day on the river. Had I simply purchased this tooth and did not have the fantastic memory of pulling it from the sand in the river I'd not be at all attached to it.

 

Providing replicas of the donated fossils is one way of allowing the amateur to still have something to show off and yet have the SIS be studied by researchers. Educating amateurs and empowering interactions between professionals and amateurs is one way of encouraging more donations but it will not change everybody's minds.

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

Not that I've found any donation-worthy fossils yet, but if I did, while I'd hate to part with it, knowing that it would go to research and possibly on display and able to further knowledge would make it worth donating. That being said - I fully agree that a replica of the donated fossil would definitely make it easier to hand over as well.

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It's a decision every fossil hunter would have to make. When you start out hunting for fossils every great find is a step up the ladder to more and more interesting fossils. Newbies generally have a complete meg tooth in their sites as the first attainable goal. Once you've gained admission to the "Meg Club" most folks passion for them subsides a little as their scope widens and they start looking for more unusual and rarer finds. Things like mammoth teeth (complete) or sloth teeth [which I've checked off my list] or mastodon teeth (complete) [still working on this] become targets. Then things like Dire Wolf or sloth claw cores or more unusual and rare specimens start becoming possible with more and more time hunting.

 

At first, it would have taken some heavy persuasion to relive me of some of my nicer finds--camel incisors, bison teeth, sloth teeth, etc. The more I hunt the less precious some of these finds become. It gets to the point where I don't remember exactly when I found most of these items and so they are less special to me. Finding the complete mammoth tooth was still a day I can reply in my mind ever time I walk by that tooth.

 

http://www.thefossilforum.com/index.php?/topic/54684-more-may-mammoth-mania/

 

Presently, it is on display in a Florida Paleontological Society exhibit at the museum. I'll likely hold onto that item for a bit longer but ultimately it is destined for the FLMNH.

 

I've gotten to the point where I'm happy to give just about anything to the museum that they might appreciate. I enjoy the fact that something I've found is of interest to a museum that has over half a million vertebrate fossils. I'm probably a little bit different from most fossil hunters as I treasure more the experience of finding fossils a lot more than actually owning a personal museum of collected fossils. Maybe that is why I really appreciate digging at the Montbrook site--I get to enjoy all the rush of initial discovery and the museum has to do all the curation. I often revisit the fossils I've found when I spot a jacketed specimen that I've found in the past. I'm presently working on a really nice turtle that Tammy and I found a year and a half ago. I'm doing some of the final prep on that on. I'll snap a bunch of photos and then the specimen will go into the research collection. This leaves my house free and clear to display a few nice items as mementos from future fossil hunts without have to be saddled with everything I've found.

 

To donate or to build an enviable personal collection--it is really a very personal decision. Individual collectors will likely find their attitude toward donations changing throughout their collecting career. It is worth the effort to encourage collectors to donate specimens that may be of immediate use in collections and to consider museums the ultimate repository for their collections when the time comes.

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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  • 2 weeks later...
Missourian

As a collector gets up there in years, he/she may may begin to ponder what will happen long-term to the collection in their possession, particularly if it includes specimens of potential scientific importance. The alternative could be next-of-kin throwing it all out once the collector passes on. I'm only 50, but I've already had this cross my mind.

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20 minutes ago, Missourian said:

The alternative could be next-of-kin throwing it all out once the collector passes on.

Something like this probably happens every day.

 

There are times when more casual collectors build up a stash of fossil material that might not contain any truly Scientifically Important Specimens (SIS) but amounts to shelves, boxes (or more) of a diversity of fossil specimens. If that passion was not shared with other members of the family such that some relatives would enjoy inheriting the collection, then Crazy Uncle Harold's "rock collection" is often unceremoniously dumped while cleaning up the estate.

 

I've seen several posthumous collections of fossil material arrive at the FLMNH. In many cases there is little to know collection information provided with the donation. This often limits its usefulness for scientific purposes. Often there are some nice specimens of a distinctive species and knowing a bit (from the family) of where the collector hunted is enough to fill in some loose collection information to go with the specimen. Donated collections like this will usually be cherry picked for any useful specimens that will fill gaps in the collection or are outstanding specimens. The remaining bulk is then often used for other purposes. Sometimes, fossil material is repurposed in kits to give away to schools or for particular programs for STEM teachers. Much more ubiquitous material (especially things like bulk small shark teeth) might find their way into things like fossil gift bags for special school group visits or the like.

 

With better personal curation of a fossil collection--particularly with much more complete collecting information--the scientific value of a collection can increase dramatically. True, a common small shark tooth even with top-notch collecting information may not find its way into a museum's collection if that taxon is already well represented from a particular area. The value of less common taxa most certainly increases with proper documentation.

 

Most of my collection from Florida sites are too scrappy and of little scientific value to worry about documenting properly. I don't get out often enough and put in enough time to build an enviable collection. I've said from the (re)start of my time collecting fossils that my interest is in the experiences and not the resulting specimens. Fossils fascinate me but I have zero desire to be the curator of my own personal museum. If I had any thoughts of building a robust collection I certainly would have been obsessive enough to have kept excellent collecting information. However, I do urge anybody who thinks they have plans to build a substantial collection that may be of interest to a museum one day to start the documentation early in this process before it becomes overwhelming.

 

Because it is the enjoyment of collecting in the field and not the accumulation of a drool-worthy museum of finds, I've always offered up any notable finds to the museum. Likely, most fossil hunters probably fall somewhere between my casual collecting and more dedicated collection building. If you feel your collection could be of scientific value some day and don't like the idea of it ending up on an auction site (or dumpster) do yourself (and your heirs) a favor and document it as it grows.

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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FossilNerd

I’m a bit of an extremist when it comes to cataloguing my fossils. I document each and every one using what I call a “bag and tag” method. Each fossil gets an entry in my database with a unique alphanumeric code then gets put into a small zip-lock type bag before being stored. From the whole trilobite to the broken bit of bryozoan.

 

It’s a lot of work and unnecessary in many instances as most (and likely all) of my finds are not scientifically significant in the slightest.
 

So why do I do it? Like many of us, I read a few books geared towards the beginner collector when I first started. Those books emphasized the need to document a collection so it could be of scientific value, so I did. I wanted to be as helpful to the science as I could be should I find something of importance. To be able to give all the information I possibly could if I had the privilege of working with an actual paleontologist or museum of some sort. 

 

After I got into the hobby seriously, I realized that my documentation of the broken brachiopod valves, crinoid columnals, and bryozoan bits was overkill, but it’s hard to teach and old dog new tricks as the saying goes and since I started documenting at the beginning, I continue to do so. 


Besides, it gives me something fossil related to do during the cold winter months. ;) 
 

To weigh in on the donate discussion… I very much welcome collaboration between amateurs and professional paleontologist, but like many I think it would be a hard thing to give up a unique and once in a lifetime find. Want to study my specimen? Knock yourself out! Need to borrow it for closer examination or to make a replica? Go for it! Just give it away to someone without hesitation? I don’t know…
 

Still, should the need arise, I would consider my options and not flat out deny a donation request. I do think that a mention in a related scientific paper, naming of the species, a replica, a mention as the finder/donator in a museum display, or something similar, would go a long way to lessen the sting of losing the specimen itself.

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Meganeura

I’ve personally started documenting all of my more note-worthy finds. The rooted complete Tapir tooth, the Tapir canine, the Chub tooth, etc. if it’s worthy of being posted in a trip report here - it gets documented. The exception being the smalls - tusk and tooth fragments, shark teeth, Megs at this point (Until I finally find a big one). 
 

Also - posts here are a way of documenting at that, which is nice. Gallery, trip reports, etc. If I ever felt like donating my collection I’d probably use them to transfer to actual documentation cards. Which I’m slowly running out of. @Nimravis they’re being used well!

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  • 2 weeks later...

One other reason amateurs are important- many academic paleontologists start out as amateur hunters, and folks like y’all inspire people to do it professionally. I know a few on this forum :)

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Missourian

It's literally crowdsourcing.

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In the best possible way.

 

It is often said that museums run on volunteers and I've certainly found that to be true in my work with the FLMNH. We could not to even a small amount of what we accomplish as a museum without many (unpaid) hours of volunteers who are doing it because we enjoy working with the professionals and getting access to great opportunities. It is a win-win when managed properly.

 

 

Cheers.

 

-Ken

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Josesaurus rex

There is not much that I can say that has not been said before, however I just want to point out that I think it is a good option for some professional paleontologists to improve relations with respect to the collectors and amateur paleontologists, since, and I dare to assure that I am not mistaken, they were all amateurs at one point in their lives, and not because they want to dissociate themselves from that past they must have a bad treatment to people who could not pursue formal studies for various reasons. I know it's not a majority case (I hope), but it does happen.

 

I also leave you this documentary that is on YouTube, About the fossil traffic in Chile, you may get a little out of context of this issue, but it shows a little the relationships between "fossil hunters" and professional paleontologists. 

 

(Don't worry about the language that has English subtitles) 

 

 

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Welsh Wizard

Great paper @Boesse. Always nice to see a balanced view.

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Josesaurus rex
7 hours ago, JohnJ said:

@Josesaurus rex the video link is broken.

Wow, how strange. It reproduces well for me. Could it be that whoever uploaded that video didn't set it up right? Or why did I copy the link from the youtube app? 

 

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1 minute ago, Josesaurus rex said:

Wow, how strange. It reproduces well for me. Could it be that whoever uploaded that video didn't set it up right? Or why did I copy the link from the youtube app? 

 

 

If it is part of a private group, it may not show for others.  

 

Screenshot_20220920-164324~2.png

 

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Josesaurus rex
8 hours ago, JohnJ said:

 

If it is part of a private group, it may not show for others.  

 

Screenshot_20220920-164324~2.png

 

 

I really don't understand why this happens, I have no problem with playback. It's a pity that happens to me, the documentary is very interesting. 

Screenshot_20220920_184759_com.android.chrome.jpg

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Josesaurus rex
16 minutes ago, JohnJ said:

 

If it is part of a private group, it may not show for others.  

 

Screenshot_20220920-164324~2.png

 

Maybe you might find it if you try to search directly on YouTube "Tráfico Ilícito fósiles" So as it is, in Spanish. It lets me know if it gets any results. 

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