Forum for documenting non-professional contributions to Vert Paleo

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    Lisa Lundgren

    Florida Museum of Natural History Vertebrate Paleontology Collections Manager Richard Hulbert sent an extensive list of contributions to vertebrate paleontology to @vperez and @mackenzie-smith for a social media post we were creating. This sort of knowledge is probably accessible in many museum databases, but might not be publicly accessible. Would it be beneficial to having a forum/publicly curated list of major contributions to museum collections by amateurs? I’ve copied the list here. Many thanks to Richard for collating all this information!

    Major Contributions by Non-professionals to Vertebrate Paleontology in Florida

    1884: Dr. John C. Neal, a physician, discovered fossils on the property of his friend J. M. Mixson near Williston in Levy County. He sent the specimens to Joseph Leidy in Philadelphia who used them to describe new species of rhinoceroses, horses, llamas, and a shovel-tusked elephant. This was the first major fossil site discovered in the state of Florida.

    1913: F. C. Giffordfirst discovered fossil bones in the bank of a newly dug drainage canal in Vero (Indian River County). He informed local residents Isaac M. Weillsand Frank Ayerson his find. Weills led continued collecting through 1918, assisted by Ayers and others, resulting in the recovery of many Pleistocene fossils and human bones and artifacts. They later worked with Dr. E. H. Sellards of the Florida Geological Survey. Ayers found the holotype skull of Tapirusveroensisin 1916. Vero was the first major “Ice Age” fossil site known from the state, and the subject of much study and controversy to this day. Weills’ fossil collection was posthumously donated to the Florida Geological Survey and now resides in the Florida Museum collection. New species from Vero were named after both Weills and Ayers.

    1914-1930: Anton Schneider was an official at the Amalgamated Phosphate Company in Polk County. He personally collected a number of significant fossil vertebrates from the phosphate mines of his company and also directed his employees to collect specimens. These were given to paleontologists at the Florida Geological Survey, the American Museum of Natural History, and Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, and formed the basis of several new species.  The giant bear Agriotherium schneideriis named in his honor.

    1922: C. P. Singletondiscovered several late Pleistocene sites in Melbourne (Brevard County). For six years Singleton worked with paleontologists from Amherst College, the Smithsonian, and Harvard University to unearth thousands of specimens totaling about 75 species, and evidence of humans coexisting with large extinct late Pleistocene mammals. These excavations produced the first mounted fossil skeleton from Florida ever put on public display, a mammoth, which to this day is exhibited at the natural history museum on the Amherst College campus in Massachusetts.

    1924: Walter W. Holmesdiscovered the Seminole Field site west of St. Petersburg in Pinellas County. He and men he hired collected several thousand fossils, including those which were used to name new species of glyptodont, llama, and armadillo. To honor Holmes’ contributions to Florida paleontology, in 1930 George Gaylord Simpson coined the name of the North American giant armadillo asHolmesina.

    1962-1963: Benjamin I. Waller andRobert R. Allenused the relative new hobby of recreational scuba diving to collect fossils in the bed of the Santa Fe River near High Springs (along boundary of Alachua and Columbia counties). They discovered the first early Pleistocene vertebrate site in Florida, which included the first known bones of the giant flightless bird Titanis walleri, with the species name honoring one of its collectors.

    1964-1986: John S. Waldropsearched the phosphate mines of Polk and surrounding counties for over 20 years, amassing a huge collection of about 40,000 vertebrate fossils. Waldrop’s discoveries led to the recognition that the deposits consisted of three different ages as well as producing many important specimens. Waldrop donated his entire fossil collection to the Florida Museum in 2011. Many other non-professional fossil collectors prospected the phosphate mines between 1965 and 1995 and donated significant specimens to many museums. Among them were Jim Ranson, Donald Crissinger, George Elmore, Rick Carter, George Heslep, Larry Martin, and Frank Garcia.

    1969-1989: Stephen Beckand Veronica Beckcollected late Pleistocene fossils from a site near Lecanto in Citrus County. Among the over 2,000 specimens is an almost complete individual of the extinct llama Hemiauchenia macrocephala, which is mounted and on public display at the Florida Museum in Gainesville.

    1974: Ron Lovefound bones on fossil rhinos while tilling his okra field near Archer in Alachua County. Excavations on the Love property by Florida Museum students and staff lasted seven years and resulted in about 45,000 specimens, including many new species of late Miocene mammals, birds, and reptiles. Among these was the leopard-sized, sabertoothed predator Barbourofelis loveorum, which was named to honor the Love family.

    1975: Don Serbousekand Roger Alexsondiscovered the Daytona Beach Bone Bed, an extensive site that produced vertebrate fossils and pollen about 130,000 years old. The specimens are housed at the Daytona Beach Museum of Arts and Sciences, including a skeleton of the giant sloth Eremotherium which is on display at that museum.  Both of these men made other important fossil discoveries in Florida’s rivers. In 1968 Serbousekcollected a nearly complete mastodon skeleton in the Aucilla River that is on display at the Florida Museum of Natural History. In 1981, Alexsonand friend Bob Gingerycollected a partial Bison antiquusskull in the Wacissa River Jefferson County). It had portions of a Native American spear point embedded in its skull, but which had not penetrated deep enough to kill the animal.

    1983: Frank A. Garciadiscovered a massive concentration of fossils exposed by mining activities at the Leisey Shell Pit in southwestern Hillsborough County near Ruskin. Frank and associates (including Ron Shrader, Don Ward, and Bill Smith) donated over 2,000 specimens they found in 1983 at this site, called Leisey 1A. In 1984, hundreds of public volunteers assisted the Florida Museum in collecting over 40,000 additional specimens.

    1989: Wayne Filyawfound a dense concentration of fossil bird skeletons in a shell quarry in northern Sarasota County. Most of the birds represent a new species of cormorant that is named Phalacrocorax filyawiin his honor. Research on the deposit suggests it was the result of a mass mortality event of fish and sea birds caused by a red tide.

    1995: Aaron Gipsondiscovered a rich concentration of early Pleistocene fossils on the bed of the Withlacoochee River on the boundary between Marion and Citrus counties. For the next two decades Aaron and his companions collected here, finding thousands of fossils. Of particular note was a very complete skull of the ground sloth Megalonyx leptostomus.

    2001: Bruce Tynerand Allen Tynerdiscovered fossils on their farm north of Newberry in Alachua County as a result of plowing their field to plant peanuts. Florida Museum staff and volunteers excavate on the Tyner property for four years, recovering thousands of fossils of rhinos, horses, and camels.

    2001-2002: MichaelSearleand Siena Searlerecovered most of the teeth from the giant Ice Age bear Arctodus simusfrom the Rainbow River in Marion County. This was the first record of this species in the state, although it was subsequently found in at three other locations. The Searles’ donated this and many other fossils from the Rainbow River to the Florida Museum. Additional significant collections of Rainbow River fossils donated to the museum were made by Terry and Cynthia Sellari, William Faucher, and Aaron Gipson.

    2007: Sierra Sarti-Sweeney, a high school student, found a mammoth mandible and other fossils eroding out of the bank of a small creek in Boca Ciega Millennium Park, Pinellas County. Subsequent excavations by the Tampa Bay Fossil Club and the Florida Museum collected thousands of late Pleistocene vertebrate fossils.

    2010: William T. Harrison discovered a partial mammoth skeleton eroding from a bank on his ranch in eastern Hardee County. The specimen is one of the largest individuals of a mammoth ever found in the state.

    2015: The granddaughter of the owner of private land south of Williston in Levy County found some fossil bones weathered out of sediment from a small pit dug to provide clay for dirt roads. The landowners, Eddie and Julie Hodge, notified the Florida Museum of the discovery and permitted us to excavate for more fossils. This has led to the collection of tens of thousands of fossils of late Miocene fish, turtles, alligators, birds, and gomphotheres at what is called the Montbrook Site.

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