by Bill Heimbrock
As a member of the Dry Dredgers,
I am frequently a point of contact for researchers in other regions
looking for specific fossils or sites for their study. Often,
this involves notifying the other Dry Dredgers members of the request
in hopes that collectors will come forward with specimens. Too often,
the much needed specimens remain sitting on the living room mantle or
in a box on the collector's basement floor. These specimens may belong
to the same collector who holds high hopes of someday finding that
holy grail to be pictured in a professional journal.
Collectors may be hesitant to deposit their prized specimen in a
museum collection for fear that it will sit on a shelf for decades
unstudied and when it is included in a study and published, the
collector who donated it might not have an opportunity to participate
or even know of the study. Is there a way to allow these collectors to
be active participants in the discovery process of professional
research and thus stir up more
On the other side of the spectrum, there are avid amateurs of near
professional levels of knowledge who are constantly collaborating with
the professional community: co-authoring papers; escorting grad
students and classes on field trips; identifying the best sites
to find fossils needed for a specific study; discovering new species;
and so on. How can we help these advanced amateurs encourage more
of these promising amateurs to get out there and do more for
How about a web site that acts as a high-visibility venue for
collaboration between professional and amateur paleontologist? Such
visibility could act to encourage budding paleontologists.
Research in Paleontology has often relied partially on volunteers. New
volunteers could "telecommute" by contributing to research
across the globe.
Such a web site could have message boards for exchange of information.
It could have photo galleries for exhibition of collectors' specimens.
A fossil identification section could allow the beginning collector a
chance to display fossils online and get them identified while the
avid collector can get wider exposure of those "mystery
fossils" and odd specimens that are so exciting for their rarity.
The specimen may exhibit something special such as a feeding behavior
or come from somewhere that is not documented to have that
genera/species. Many advanced collectors feel they have specimens that
deserve more scientific study by the professional community. A web
site could serve as a place to display them and get them "out on
the table" of scientific inquiry.
I am sure there are many ideas for professional papers that are on the
back burner of college professors or museum curators just waiting for
some additional evidence to support their ideas. Perhaps a web site
could not only offer a place where amateurs show potential research
specimens but where professionals can post "specimens
wanted" ads for the collector to answer. If nothing else, such a
wish list would awaken the amateur collector to look for that special
fossil while casually out there in the field, collecting.
Perhaps the web site could display success stories of fossil
collectors who have found specimens that have been used and published
in professional journals or who have become co-authors of significant
Since the web site would be a central place where amateurs and
professionals meet, there could also be a place where pleas for
traditional volunteer fossil preparers and the like could be posted.
There could be photos of museum projects in progress to build interest
You might say this is an over zealous dream. Or you might feel that
all of these things have been done before. Set aside your skepticism
for a moment. Lets just start with a place where amateurs and
professionals come together to communicate and then begin sharing in
mutually beneficial ventures. What would you like such a Web site to
have? What would draw YOU to the site?
The web site could evolve as we learn more about what is needed.
Often, web sites are experiments in function. Ideas become functional
web pages. Some functions find purpose and occasionally a function
becomes heavily needed. From this process, the world wide web has
developed. Paleontology has already benefited greatly from this new
electronic medium. There are now online professional journals, such as
Electronica, interactive discussion groups, such as PaleoNet, as
well as many other venues for information exchange. More and
more highly respected paleontological organizations such as PRI,
GSA are bringing up really nice
web sites. This serves to demonstrate the huge potential in these new
tools for advancing Paleontology.
Let's all give this a try. Send in your ideas for
firstname.lastname@example.org. Your ideas
and comments will be kept confidential and will be seriously
considered and very much appreciated.
Thanks for making xfossils.com a worthwhile venture for all!
Bill Heimbrock, Amateur Paleontologist and Xfossils Moderator