by Wendell Ricketts
The first issue of Fossil News, a twelve-page, black-and-white newsletter, appeared in January 1995. Since then, nearly twenty-two years have passed, but Fossil News has never stopped evolving.
The founding editor of Fossil News—the avocational paleontologist, science educator and, currently, editor of the online Journal of Accessible Sciences, Joe Small—remained at the helm of his creation for three years. The photos in those early issues were sometimes fuzzy, typos weren’t uncommon, and the layout was occasionally a bit haphazard. But looking back at them today, two things shine through: First, Small’s commitment to creating community among fossil “enthusiasts” and, second, the generosity of the young magazine’s volunteer writers, artists, long-time avocational collectors, and friendly professionals who shared their vast information and experience with readers.
When Colorado-based author, artist, and museum specialist Lynne Clos took over the magazine in 1998, she increased the number of pages per issue, introduced color to Fossil News, and officially changed the publication’s subtitle from The Journal of Amateur Paleontology to The Journal of Avocational Paleontology. The new name, which aligned Fossil News even more closely with the concept of the “citizen scientist,” stuck, lasting not only through the fourteen years of Clos’s editorship but on into the present.
During Clos’s tenure, Fossil News continued to attract a stable of loyal contributors that included Marc Behrendt, Alan Debus, Steve Brusatte, Sally Day, Glenn Mattei, and many others (some of them are still writing for Fossil News today), and its national and international subscriber base grew steadily. The articles that appeared in Fossil News were lively and diverse, representing the interests of fossil collectors and aficionados with nearly every imaginable “specialty”: the Ashfall Fossil Beds, Middle Silurian cystoids, Florida fossil turtles, Mesozoic plants, eurypterids, “terror” birds, Devonian brachiopods, T. rex, mastodons, Green River stingrays, lots and lots of trilobites, scores of book reviews, and countless other topics.
When Clos stepped back from Fossil News in 2012, the magazine seemed to have reached its natural end—but extinction isn’t always forever.
After a several-year hiatus, Fossil News returned in Spring 2016 as a 52-page, full-color quarterly. Our subscribers recently received the journal’s fourth issue, Winter 2016, bringing the first year of the “new” Fossil News to a close.
Though the magazine’s look and format have changed considerably over more than two decades, Fossil News’ mission has not. We remain dedicated to providing interesting, good-quality information to anyone with a passion for paleontology and to connecting fossil collectors at all levels of experience – both with each other and with professional paleontologists, science writers, educators, curators, preparators, and other experts.
Fossil News has also renewed a commitment to the magazine’s mission in several important areas. First, we want to make sure that whatever we publish about paleontology, fossils, and fossil collecting exists in the broader context of reliable, accessible science education and information. That’s why we do our best to work with writers who are well-versed in their fields and whose perspectives are based in experience and research. As we tell potential authors: Explain it well, and readers will understand. Don’t dumb it down and don’t hold back!
Second, we’re constantly impressed by the astonishing quality and variety of paleoart that is being produced today, both by means of traditional media, including photography, and through the use of ever more sophisticated design and drawing software. Because of that, Fossil News makes it a priority to showcase the work of paleoartists in every issue. We’ve worked with Norwegian artist Esther van Hulsen; the UK-based paleo-illustrator Gareth Monger; native Atlantan Daniel Eskridge; and Aaron John Gregory, co-owner of the T-shirt company “Cotton Crustacean” in Santa Cruz, California. Our Winter 2016 issue includes a “PaleoGifts” special section that highlights the work of toy makers, photographers, conceptual artists, clothing designers, jewelry makers and others, all of whom produce, in one medium or another, what can be called paleo-inspired art.
Finally, Fossil News is convinced that anyone involved in disseminating fossil-related information today has a responsibility to acknowledge fossils as a natural resource and to behave accordingly. As such, though some fossils are obviously more common than others, they are not infinitely exploitable. Properly protecting and safeguarding fossil resources means understanding the difference between “endangered” and common fossils and distinguishing sites that deserve to be sheltered from those that can stand unrestricted traffic. In some cases, that may include accepting sensible regulations and limitations on collecting and taking a clear-eyed look at the ethics and impact of a commercial fossil market that is all but completely unregulated.
For individual collectors, proper tutelage of fossil resources means treating their collections with care and seriousness, including maintaining complete and accurate records. This means not over-collecting just because fossils are abundant, and perhaps becoming a little more willing to share their surplus with schools, museums, and educational programs.
Above all, as fossil sites succumb to development, are “collected out,” end up on private property, or are turned into pay-to-play attractions, there’s a significant risk that casual, non-commercial collectors will be shut out of their “avocation.” That’s a big problem with no easy solution, but depending upon the diminishing ability of fossil clubs to host collecting trips for an increasing number of interested parties isn’t a long-term answer either. These are all conversations we hope to deepen in the pages of Fossil News in the coming months.
As the “new” Fossil News officially concludes its first year, we can boast of subscribers in England, Scotland, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, and Norway, as well as in thirty American states. We’ve made a special effort to ensure that our content is international in focus, with articles by British ichthyosaur expert and paleontologist, Dean Lomax, and other reports and features by Scottish, Italian, Cuban, and Norwegian scientists, artists, and collectors (though most of our writers are here in the U.S.).
In the coming months, look for us at the 22nd Street Show in Tucson—and don’t forget that a subscription to Fossil News makes an exceptional holiday gift. Information about subscriptions and discounts is available from FourCatsPress.com/FossilNews/