Editor’s Note: This issue we highlight Cindy Lockner who serves on the governing boards of both the Florida Fossil Hunters and the Florida Paleontological Society, Inc.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today. I consider myself a paleontology, geology, and outdoor enthusiast. I currently serve as a Board Member with the Florida Fossil Hunters and the Florida Paleontological Society, Inc. I assist in fossil preparation and restoration with The Academy of Natural History Preservation in Rockledge, Florida, and am a volunteer with the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center. One of the Oreodont skulls I recently prepared was placed in the De Soto National Memorial Jr. Paleontologist Educational Kit, which is part of the National Park Service “Junior Rangers Program.” I am also a member of the Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, and the National Wildlife Federation.
How did you first discover your passion for fossils?
My parents once told me that from the time I could walk, I was digging in the dirt. When I was just ten years old, my class took a field trip to the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Walking through the Fossil Hall was amazing, and I didn’t want to leave. I was in awe at the size and beauty of the specimens. Having an admiration for animals and appreciation for nature, I couldn’t wait for the time when I would be able to look for and find fossils on my own. Instead of buying lunch, I spent my money on a rock from the gift store. Although not a fossil, it would serve as a memento of the day, and be a source of inspiration – that someday I too would dig for fossils. I still have that rock in my collection today.
How long have you been collecting fossils?
I collected my first fossil (a trilobite), 21 years ago in Pennsylvania. Since moving to Florida, I joined the Florida Fossils Hunters and Florida Paleontological Society and started collecting with these wonderful groups on their field trips. I also enjoy collecting dinosaur fossils in Montana. While I love digging for and collecting fossils for my personal collection, I prefer to volunteer and collect fossils for museum collections, where they will be studied and displayed for others to enjoy.
How do you identify/organize your fossils–which texts or other resources do you use, or which professional paleontologists do you consult?
Organizing my collection is a work in progress. For my Florida fossils, I use the book titled, The Fossil Vertebrates of Florida, and have consulted with Dr. Richard C. Hulbert, Jr., Collections Manager and Coordinator of Program of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History. For my dinosaur fossils, I consult with Dr. David Trexler, Paleontologist at the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center.
When did you begin volunteering with the Florida Museum of Natural History? At which sites / on which projects have you worked?
I began volunteering with the Florida Museum of Natural History in 2011. I have worked at several sites, including Thomas Farm, Boca Ciega Millennium Park, and most recently, Montbrook. To date, I have discovered over 400 fossils as part of my volunteer efforts, which are cataloged in FLMNH’s vertebrate collections database. I really enjoy volunteering, especially out in the field, and have logged in over 300 hours in total volunteer work with the Florida Museum of Natural History. It is a unique opportunity to dig alongside and learn from FLMNH faculty such as Dr. Hulbert and Dr. David Steadman, Curator of Ornithology. I recently wrote about my experience as a volunteer with FLMNH, in an article co-authored with Paul Roth, President of FPS, which was featured on the National Park Services’ web site. I believe volunteering is an incredible educational experience which helps to strengthen museum collections and advance research. It provides amateurs, like me, an opportunity to discover, preserve, and protect fossils for future generations to see.
What is your collection like? How many specimens are in your collection?
I’ve never actually counted them, but my collection is broken down into three categories. The Florida specimens are mostly teeth from the Peace River, including multiple species of shark, ray, and gar fish. I also have a collection of dugong ribs, turtle shells, a Glyptodont scute, a whale inner ear bone, an alligator osteoderm, sting ray dermal plates, and a giant armadillo vertebra. In addition to the Florida fossils, I have a dinosaur collection including several Therapod teeth, coprolite, and several dinosaur skull replicas. My third collection is rocks, minerals, and petrified wood. I enjoy the fluorescent and phosphorescent minerals – they are a lot of fun to watch as they transform into different colors under ultraviolet light. Nature really is amazing.
What is your most favorite fossil that you discovered? Why?
My favorite Florida fossil that I have discovered as a FLMNH volunteer is a juvenile Gomphothere tusk. Finding a fossil is an incredible experience to me. I am the first and only person that has ever touched that animal. I think about its life, what it might have encountered, and wonder how it met its demise. My favorite personal fossil I have discovered in Montana was a Tyrannosaurus tooth with some of its root intact. Below are some of Cindy’s contributions to the Vertebrate Paleontology collection at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
Please tell us about what prompted you to get involved and help lead the Florida Fossil Hunters’ annual “Women in Paleontology” day. What are your plans for future Women in Paleontology events?
Many years ago when I met with the school guidance counselor on what classes I should take to prepare for college, I expressed interest in the field of paleontology, but was discouraged from pursuing because the counselor told me that “girls don’t really get in that field,” and I would be better served looking at something else. It was disappointing, but I trusted that it was good advice and I moved on to another career. That was thirty years ago, but I want young girls to know that whatever they want to be – they can be. And if it’s in the field of paleontology, they now have local resources available to them. Women have contributed to the field of paleontology for a long time, but most names are not widely recognizable. For example, did you know that it was a woman, Marion Brandvold, who discovered the first baby dinosaur bones recognized from North America and the first to be found in a nest anywhere in the world? Even the Florida Museum of Natural History’s most recent dig site, Montbrook, was discovered when the wife of the land owner and their 5 year old granddaughter found a fossil sticking out of the sand.
Our next Women in Paleontology event is Saturday May 7th, 2016 at the Orlando Science Center from 10am-4pm. I hope you will join us in this noteworthy event that provides a platform for professional women in paleontology and the earth sciences, to share career opportunities with girls and young women, and everyone is welcome.
My future plans for the Women in Paleontology event would be to get more involvement from schools and the Girl Scouts of America. I would love for girls to be able to earn a Paleontology badge. I would also like to conduct an annual girls field trip, where they would hunt for fossils, get assistance identifying the fossils, and then bring the fossils to the Women in Paleontology event where they would have their own table to share their experience with others, and be paired up with female mentors from the University of Florida. My larger vision is to expand this event nationwide.
Do you have any recommendations for other fossils clubs/societies who are trying to get children & teens interested in paleontology? What is your favorite memory from an outreach event?
Always be promoting. I talk about fossils all the time to anyone that will listen, and encourage them to join their local fossil clubs. Find out if your current members have any exposure to youth, and if so, if they would be willing to conduct educational fossil discussions. Bonnie Cronin of the Florida Fossil Hunters conducts an amazing monthly Kids’ Fossil Blast, which is an educational talk and fossil display. Children love to touch and feel fossils as they’re learning about them. I will be speaking at an upcoming library outreach event on fossils in Maitland, Florida on May 25, 2016.
My favorite memory from an outreach event was at last year’s Women in Paleontology event. A young girl stopped by my display table and was excited to see the different fossil specimens. She told me that while she really liked my fossils, she really loved marine animals, so I took her over to the table that had those items displayed, and where she would be able to talk to a marine biologist. When we told her that she could help at the table by holding and passing around different specimens, she could hardly contain herself with excitement. The smile on her face was just priceless. She ended up talking her very supportive father into staying at the event the entire day.
To learn more:
Read Cindy’s article with Paul Roth and David Steadman on Thomas Farm on the National Park Service website