The joys of paleontology


I’ll be the first to admit it; the specimen was not much to look at. Seventy years after being dug out of the ground much of it had crumbled into four-foot-long Y, and the curved teeth that once stood upright in that jaw had slumped out of their sockets into the sulfur-smelling debris. All the same, it was an impressive sight.

During the past four years I have spent much of my free time reading about evolution and paleontology. Popular summaries, symposium volumes, technical papers; the numerous books that clutter my office and the disorganized mess of PDFs on my hard drive have taught me much about the life of the past. Yet there is no substitute for hands-on experience. It is one thing to see a diagram of a fossil with each bone clearly distinguished by stark lines and with a little annotation telling you what it is, but it is quite another to try and find the edges of the frontal bone on a fragmented fossil skull.

That was one of the challenges I faced today in the lab at the New Jersey State Museum. I loved every minute of it. I am going to keep my exact plans to myself for now, but with any luck I will be able to explain the work I plan to do through publications and presentations in the coming months and years. I love paleontology, and I am elated that I will have the ability to start contributing significantly to the field.

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