Friday, February 6, 2009

The Preparator

Greg Brown posted this great quote over on the 'Vertebrate Paleontology Preparation and Conservation' group on facebook (you should join), and I just had to share it with you all:

"This is from a review (written by Gilbert Stucker, 1977) of A. E. Rixon's prep manual...thought it was interesting and worth sharing:

"The trouble with fossils is that they are found encased in rock. An elaborate technology -- one might almost call it a 'mystique' -- has grown up around the need to remove this rock, while still preserving its contents. [Rixon] shares membership in that dedicated body of workers referred to facetiously by the late D. R. Barton as 'the Jimmy Valentines of Science' -- the middlemen through whose hands a petrification must normally pass before it can be properly evaluated as a scientific object. Known to the profession as 'preparators', their job specifications read like those of a jack-of-all-trades -- stonemason, prospector, expedition organizer, cook, mechanic, blacksmith, chemist, and, sometimes, artist. The work can be ardous and is usually of painstaking character, requiring infinite patience, skill, and a knowledge of animal osteology."

On a related note, don't forget about the Second Annual Fossil Preparation and Collections Symposium* which will be held this year at the Tate Museum on Friday, June 5th (2009). Start making your plans!

*previous blog post on the meeting


Anonymous said...

Many people have suggested I become a Fossil Preparator instead of a Vertebrate Paleontologist. I declined because I think you paleontologists get to work with them more often and actually study them. I think you Paleontologists are also preparators, but, I didn't want to do just that. Any tips on my "road" to becoming a Paleontologist?

ReBecca Hunt-Foster said...

I think they can be one in the same. I consider myself to be both a preparator and a vertebrate paleontologist. I also think that anyone who just wants to be a "paleontologist" should prep for at least a short amount of time so they have a better understanding of how it works and so you have more respect for preparators. To many paleontologist have no respect for preparators and treat them as lesser forms of life and that is just a pet peeve of mine. Without preparators there would not be many fossils to study. I enjoy prep'ing, it is a great way to decompress.

Anonymous said...

And, get one on one with the specimen before it's mounted and visitors get to view it. Thanks for the tip.

BTW, people like that can be just full of themselves sometimes.

ReBecca Hunt-Foster said...

Just my $.02

Anonymous said...

Paleontological knowledge often "trickles down" from the academic paleontologist to the preparator, but it is far less common for preparation knowledge to "trickle up". It is essential that a preparator know as much as possible about paleontological research in order to do his/her job well...but there is seldom a real need for an academic paleontologist to know the techniques and materials of preparation unless they, saddly, have no "Jimmy Valentine" of their own to support their research.

In reality, both sub-disciplines (academic paleontologist and preparator) must spend all of their time keeping up with their own sub-disciplines if they expect to do their jobs well. The sub-discipline "paleontologist" includes paleontology; the sub-discipline "preparation" includes paleontology and preparation and conservation.

It all boils down to what you want from life. If you love to work with your hands AND your mind, if you are thrilled at the opportunity to discover something new with every brush or tool stroke and if you take pride in accomplishing physical perfection in a specimen your paleontologist boss thinks is impossible...become a preparator!