Southeast Geological Society of America (SEGSA) Conference in Columbia, SC

The southeastern Geological Society of America Regional Meeting was held in Columbia, SC on March 31-April 1. Friend’s members Lee and Amanda Cone, Linda and Bruce McCall, Jason Kowinsky, Chuck Ferrara, Al Klatt, George Powell, and Cynthia Crane made the trip to the Capital City. Between speaking times for oral presentations and discussion times for poster presentations, members had little time for idle chatter. The Fossil Project hosted the theme session, Synergistic Paleontology: The Fossil Project and Amateur Contributions to the Field I and II.

 This was the first time that I am aware, that the entire morning and afternoon session at a professional conference was filled by presentations devoted to the amateur contribution to paleontology. Seventeen speakers in total presented on a wide variety of topics, which ranged from a museum’s point of view to a commercial paleontologist’s point of view. Representatives from the west coast, the east coast and areas in between spoke on collaborative ventures between amateurs and professionals. The academic contributions, along with the supportive contribution to different museums were all covered. Surprisingly, although the core themes were consistent throughout, none of the talks were repetitive in nature or overlapped in coverage. All of the talks were very well received by the audience, which was supported in part by numerous professional paleontologists.

Topics covered by Friends members which show the diversity of the oral presentations and PowerPoint presentations, are listed below.

Lee Cone: The Special Friends of the Aurora Fossil Museum: A Model for Amateur Involvement in a Museum Setting

Linda McCall: Amateur/Avocational Contributions to Paleontology: The Big Picture

Chuck Ferrara: Fossil Clubs and Societies Are Still Relevant: The Paleontological Involvement of the Southwest Florida Fossil Society

Jason Kowinsky: The Value of Amateur Websites in the Field of Paleontology

Walter Stein: The Ten Ton Dinosaur in the Room: Contributions of the Commercial Paleontologist and a Holistic Approach to Moving Forward

Gretta Polites: Encouraging Professional-Amateur Collaboration: Lessons from the Literature on Collecting Motives


Several Professional Paleontologists also spoke on the positive influence of amateur involvement.

Cynthia Crane: The Aurora Fossil Museum: A Model Showcase of the Contributions of the Citizen Scientist

Bruce MacFadden: The Fossil Project: A Collaborative Community of Amateur and Professional Paleontologists

Benjamin Dattilo: The Mutual Obligations Between Fossil Enthusiasts and Academic Paleontologists

Robert Boessenecker: Collaboration between Amateur and Professional Paleontologists on the West Coast: A Case Study from the Late Neogene Purisima Formation and Santa Margarita Sandstone of Northern California


During the Poster Session on Thursday George Powell, Chuck Ferrara, Cynthia Crane, and I had posters available for discussion with the GSA attendees at the convention. George discussed the Aurora Whale prep and jacket process that he organized and carried out with the member volunteers of the Special Friends. While most were balancing the oral presentations with the poster session, George held court all day long in the poster auditorium fielding questions and explaining his poster. I also want to recognize another Friends member, Al Klatt, who made the trip from Franklin, NC to support the theme session. Though he did not have a poster or presentation, it was wonderful that his support and added conversation was part of this amateur theme session.

Conclusions and Reflections

As I look back on this experience there are several important milestones that we as amateurs crossed in Columbia. The first is the legitimacy that we brought to the FOSSIL Project as an important force in the future of progressive paleontology. That is not to say that what has transpired in the past with respect to the FOSSIL Project is not legitimate. It has been monumental in so far as opening doors, inviting amateurs, and enlightening paleontologists, but this conference was a step forward, a higher plane in that amateurs were not simply brought along, but rather became a part of a theme session, making valid points in a variety of diverse areas regarding amateur involvement, collaboration, and donation. The case for amateur inclusion was in fact legitimately and successfully presented in each of the seventeen oral presentations and seven posters. In past conferences, such as the NAPC-Gainesville and SVP- Dallas the amateur was a passive participant, there but with limited involvement professionally. For the first time at a professional conference the amateur voice presented strong opinions, supported by irrefutable data backing up statements, in an entire theme session.

Though the positive nature of our presentations sent a strong message, there was also a troubling side that demonstrates that we have much more work to do. I applaud the professionals who did come in to hear one or more of our oral presentations, but I was somewhat disappointed that more of the two thousand professionals at the GSA did not attend our session. I feel that if professionals do not allow themselves to become involved and hear our message as to the positive aspects of amateur collaboration, then there will always remain a level of distrust with the amateur community. We, as members and supporters of the FOSSIL Project, are working tirelessly to educate all our members about best practices, professional and museum inclusion, and preservation of valuable information for research and study. I would like to see the professional paleontologists do the same among their colleagues, to learn by listening to the many divergent ways that collaboration and service is being carried out in the amateur community. One cannot become fully educated on a subject with out understanding not only what you think to be true, but also what you think may not be true as well.

It was very nice to be a part of the SE-GSA and experience the openness and welcoming assistance that the organizers extended to us. It was particularly positive that the SE-GSA provided the FOSSIL Project with a forum with which we could share the contributions of the amateur paleontologist with the members of the Geological Society of America. It is also important to recognize the FOSSIL Project as the leader and organizer that allowed us the opportunity to express our views at this prestigious and important scientific meeting. A major step was achieved at the SE-GSA in the direction of forming synergistic amateur-professional relationships, as well as fostering mutual respect between all paleontologists.

Lee Cone