Recognizing the Contributions of Amateur Paleontologists

by Bruce J. MacFadden, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida

Two major professional societies are devoted to paleontology in the U.S. These are the Paleontological Society, founded in 1908, and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, founded in 1940. It is widely appreciated by professionals that the contributions of amateurs enrich the disciplines through activities such as field collecting and the donation of important fossils to research collections in natural history museums. In so doing the amateurs contribute to, and advance the science of paleontology and collaborate with professionals. Both of these societies have annual awards that recognize the contributions of amateurs. The awards are presented at the Annual Meetings of each society held in the Fall, at which time the recipient typically attends the meeting to receive the award and be recognized at an awards ceremony.

Strimple Award of the Paleontological Society

Harrell L. Strimple (second from left)

The Strimple Award recognizes outstanding achievement in paleontology by amateurs (someone who does not make a living full-time from paleontology). Contributions may be an outstanding record of research and publication, making outstanding collections, safeguarding unique paleontological materials through public service, teaching activities in the area of paleontology, and collaborations with others working in paleontology.

Harrell Strimple was a self-trained paleontologist and from 1962 to 1980, curator of the Paleontological repository at the University of Iowa. His collecting and research emphasis was primarily crinoids. He published more than 300 scientific papers and was a major contributor to the Treatise of Invertebrate Paleontology. He frequently named new species of crinoids after local fossil collectors (Adrain, 2009).

Strimple Award Chair: Arnie Miller [email protected]

For more information about the Strimple Award.

Skinner Award of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

Morris Skinner with the Frick Fossil horse collection, ca. 1970s
Morris Skinner with the Frick Fossil horse collection, ca. 1970s

The Morris F. Skinner Award honors outstanding and sustained contributions to scientific knowledge through the making of important collections of fossil vertebrates. It shall also be made to those persons who encourage, train or teach others toward the same pursuits.

Morris Skinner was from the Sand Hills of Nebraska in the 20th century. He worked for the Frick Laboratory, primarily as a field collector of fossils, but he also curated fossils. He amassed an extraordinary stratigraphically well documented collection of fossil vertebrates from North America that is one of the largest of its kind in the world. When the Frick Collection became part of the American Museum of Natural History in the 1960s (Galusha 1975), Morris became a curator of that institution. Morris was an expert on fossil horses, and freely shared his love of paleontology and fossils with amateur and professionals alike. This author was mentored by Morris and owes a debt of gratitude to him for his encouragement and guidance during my early professional career.

Skinner Award Chair: Daniel Goujet [email protected]

For more information about the Skinner Award.

In closing, these awards are important to link together amateurs and professionals and celebrate contributions to paleontology. In addition to the national and international awards described above, other paleontological societies and museums give similar awards on a more regional basis. Currently, there is no compilation of these kinds of awards, but that would be something that would further recognize the contributions of amateurs to the science of paleontology.

For further reading:

Adrain, T. 2009. 150 Years of Collecting Crinoids at the University of Iowa Paleontology Repository. MAPS Digest, 32(1):19 – 28.

Galusha, T. 1975. Childs Frick and the Frick Collection of Fossil Mammals. Curator 18(1):5-15.