by Jason P. Schein and William J. Shankle
Philadelphia and the surrounding tri-state region are the birthplace of paleontology (especially vertebrate paleontology) in the New World. It is here that the first complete dinosaurs were discovered, where the Bone Wars began, and where much of the last century’s biggest discoveries were made. It remains an important hub of paleontology even today, due in large part of course to the region’s geology, but also to the many world-class museums nearby, and to the many professional and avocational paleontologists in Philly or within just a couple hours’ drive. For the last several decades, the Delaware Valley Paleontological Society (DVPS) has been a proud and significant part of this rich history.
The DVPS was founded in 1978 with 58 members, and has grown significantly to a total of more than 300 members today, all of whom enjoy a monthly newsletter. Membership – which is open to anyone – includes both professional and avocational paleontologists, young and old, representing all levels of interest, and from throughout the region. Meetings are held monthly (with a break during the summer for field work!) at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University (ANSDU) – the academic homes E. D. Cope and Joseph Leidy, and mere feet away from specimens collected by Lewis and Clark! Meetings include time for “show-and-tell” as well as a talk by a professional or an avocational paleontologist.
The original purpose for establishing the DVPS was for gathering and disseminating information relating to fossil forms, and it accomplishes this mission in many ways and for a wide variety of audiences. Members very often participate in outreach opportunities, festivals, and all manner of fossil-related events throughout the year. Members also take advantage of the region’s varied geology by leading field trips to collect all ages and types of fossil flora and fauna (though collecting trips have been known to extend to such exotic locales as Florida and Kansas)!
Some might say that the DVPS’ contributions to academic paleontology is where the group has its biggest impact. The Mosasaur is the DVPS’ well-respected scientific journal that publishes original, peer-reviewed articles that contribute to paleontology and are of interest to both the amateur and professional paleontology communities. Every article of The Mosasaur is available on our website. Plans are also underway for the publication of a new journal, dubbed “The Nautilus,” that will publish less scientific, more anecdotal articles authored by members. Just as importantly, members regularly donate scientifically important specimens to museums throughout the region, with the primary beneficiaries being the ANSP and the New Jersey State Museum.
The DVPS raises funds primarily through its annual Fossil Fair and holiday party/auction. These monies, along with dues and donations, fund the annual Paul Bond Memorial Scholarship, which supports a regional student’s research project with an award of $1,500. The only stipulation for receiving this award is that the winner must present their research as the featured speaker at one of the monthly meetings. These scholarships have helped to launch the careers of some of today’s most successful paleontologists, including Drs. Matthew Lamanna (Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History) and Tyler Lyson (Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science). The DVPS also offers occasional grants to help fund other regional paleontology-related initiatives, including a crowdfunding campaign in 2015 and the creation of Rowan Fossil Park (now Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park at Rowan University) in 2016. To date, the DVPS has distributed a total of $17,500 to 14 scholarship awardees since 1997, and more than $11,650 to 13 paleo-related projects.
The DVPS’ members – no matter their profession or background – are simply fossil enthusiasts at heart who just want to get together and have fun talking about and sharing fossil stories. But the DVPS accomplishes so much more than that. There is a shared sense of responsibility to the science of paleontology that surely emanates, at least in part, from working and gathering in the shadow of so much history – the birthplace of our beloved science.
For more information, including details on how to join the DVPS, please visit our website.