FOSSIL Project at the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting

By Sadie Mills

In late October, the FOSSIL Project traveled to the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Seattle, Washington. There, FOSSIL staff and community members learned about, shared, and celebrated collaborations between amateur and professional paleontologists. Three FOSSIL team members gave talks at the technical session, Citizen Science in Paleontology: Harnessing Public Interest to Advance Research and STEM Education, which was co-organized by Eleanor Gardner. Bruce MacFadden presented a case study on how cooperation between amateur and professional paleontologists led to the documentation of rare early Miocene land mammals of Belgrade, North Carolina. FOSSIL graduate student, Victor Perez, shared his experience collaborating with amateur collector, Ken Marks, to document the first known occurrence of cookie cutter sharks in the Florida fossil record. Finally, former FOSSIL coordinator, Eleanor Gardner, presented on citizen science best practices based on lessons learned from the FOSSIL Project.

Slide from talk by FOSSIL Project member Victor Perez


FOSSIL was pleased to sponsor the travel and conference attendance of three professional and three amateur paleontologists, four of whom also gave presentations during the citizen science technical session. Richard Twitchett, a research leader at the Natural History Museum in London, presented on the use of a paleoblitz outreach event to engage the public in paleontology. John Westgaard, project leader of the Hill Annex Paleontology Project, described his experience mobilizing citizen scientists to explore the Cretaceous soils of Minnesota. Bobby Boessenecker, adjunct lecturer at the College of Charleston Mace Brown Museum of Natural History, spoke on the development of a museum exhibit honoring contributions made by amateur paleontologists. Finally, North Carolina Fossil Club president, Linda McCall, presented on her club’s four-part book series featuring the most complete photographic record of North Carolina fossils.

Talk by Linda McCall

The project also staffed a booth in the GSA Exhibit Hall, where we promoted our social paleontology community. This booth was co-sponsored by Seattle-area fossil club, the Northwest Paleontological Association (NPA). NPA members Paul Kester, Gregg Wilson, Meg Richards, and Tom Wolfe volunteered their time at the booth, and helped share their knowledge of and enthusiasm for fossils in the Pacific Northwest. The club also brought some amazing specimens to display at the booth, including a terror bird track, a Stonerose specimen, and Cambrian trilobites. The dedication of FOSSIL staff and volunteers helped the project recruit 61 new members to the my website, as well as 100 new followers on our social media platforms. Thank you to NPA and our other collaborators for helping to grow our community!

MacKenzie Smith as the FOSSIL Project booth
From Back Left to Right: Jeanette Pirlo, Gregg Wilson, Victor Perez, MacKenzie Smith, and Peg Johnson, take a quick group shot after a productive day collecting petrified wood in Mattawa, Washington. Photo credit: Tom Wolfe.

While in the area, FOSSIL Project graduate students, MacKenzie Smith, Jeanette Pirlo, and Victor Perez had the opportunity to join Northwest Paleontological Association members Gregg Wilson, Tom Wolfe, and Peg Johnson for a trip to the Ginko Petrified Forest State Park in Eastern Washington. They also got the chance to dig for petrified wood specimens at Saddle Mountain Management Area, part of which is BLM (Bureu of Land Management) land near Mattawa, Washington. All of the collected samples were examined for cellular structure. Cellular structure in wood is difficult to preserve, however, and none of the samples collected retained any. If the samples had retained cellular structure, it would have aided in identification and made them important specimens to add to the Florida Museum’s paleobotany collection. Nonetheless, these collected specimens will not go to waste as they will be used for educational outreach programs.

To learn more about the annual meeting, visit   

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