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Competitive Fossil Exhibit ...


By Dick Gottfried

Here I am, a member of the TGMS, and a fossil nut.  I am not entirely out of place, as, since a child, I have always suffered from that affliction called ROCK POX, and have never been loath to “pick up a purdy rock” if I see one.  When I lived in St. Louis, we had a local fossil club, the Eastern Missouri Society for Paleontology, which had meetings every month and many field trips in the local area.  Missouri and Illinois are fossil-hunting heaven – you could find fossils almost in your back yard.  I could wax rhapsodic on and on, but that’s not the subject of this article.

Why not set up a competitive fossil exhibit?  I’ve never done that before, and fossil nuts are a rarity among gem and mineral collectors.

Examining my collection, I had to ask what specimens would be best to show?  Unlike many collectors, I did not specialize in one area. My specialty could be described as:  anything that ever lived at any time and anywhere on earth.  Therefore, I decided to limit the geography to the Missouri/Illinois area.  Of course, this mirrored the Minerals of the Midwest theme of the show. I had an adequate number of good specimens to choose from.

Next, how would I select them?  How could I keep them from looking “ho-hum, just a bunch of dusty rocks”?  Fossils don’t have any flashy colors like purdy rocks do.  Much of my collection consists of small animals, some of which must be stored in coin folders so that they can be examined without being damaged or misplaced.  Others must be seen up close to be appreciated.  So, after many hours of sifting, I came up with a bunch of fossils that I thought would be of interest.  I decided to only use specimens I had personally collected, prepared, documented, and written up on my computer.  This would be duck soup to label up and display!

Duck soup turned out to be a little more complicated recipe than I expected.  How did I want to arrange the display?  What type of order should it follow?  It could be the biggest in the back and the smallest in the front, but that wouldn’t make any sense.  That would be an unintelligible mish-mosh, and it didn’t “speak to me” -- bad feng-shui.   How about the oldest to the youngest?  I didn’t think that would impress anyone. Another gemisch! 

How about the evolutionary path or tree of life arrangement?  Bingo!  That would make sense, and, by golly, I had every phylum and most of the better-known classes.  With the proper explanation and background on the case lining, it should enhance interest into what the display is all about.  So, part of my background would be the TREE-OF-LIFE.  Onto the labels!

There are no specifications for labels, other than BROOOAD hints, so I will do what is most sensible to me.  The name of the specimen.  Scientific name.  Genus and species (if possible).  Plus, the name of the describing author and publication date of his paper. And do it properly and consistently.  This is standard practice in the literature, and, of course, I had all this information at my fingertips (cough, cough).  After ascertaining that this was correct (via the internet, etc.), add the common name. Then the phylogeny (phylum, class, order and family), the stratigraphy (period, epoch, series, formation, member), and the age of the fossil in millions of years (MYA), remembering that you start with the oldest date and end with the most recent (I tend to reverse this often, and it would be embarrassing to be dinged because of this).

Now go back and check my spelling… what, spellcheck doesn’t recognize any of the technical names or geological formations?  Humph!  Why does it seem that my fingers misspell when my brain doesn’t?  OK, Dick, go back and check every spelling, word by word.  You know that you will probably misspell the one word that one judge is the world-expert on, and will take great pleasure in shaming you loudly and in public! (I know that won’t happen, but if I’m going to set up an exhibit, it’s going to be correct and done right).

Since specimens were collected over a wide geographic area, a map is required -- preferably a geological map -- so that the fossil locations can be pinpointed.  This should add the proper dimension to the display. And what about an explanation why all these marine fossils were found in the middle of the continent?  Hmmm…Oh yes, I had written a paper on this and it is still on the internet.  Grab it and plagiarize myself!  Now the exhibit is now coming together.  Let’s see how it looks it at the show. 

Seriously, I am looking forward to the criticisms of the display from the judges because this will be my first exhibit, competitive or otherwise, and it has already been a great learning experience for me.

I must admit that the displays in the show have always been intimidating to me as they are so fantastic.  The professional collections have been world-class, something that I never thought I could compete with.  However, most of these displays have not been self-collected, nor are most of them set up by amateur hobbyists who just love collecting.  I have many fossils that I have purchased, and many that have been offered as freebies at fossil club meetings.  However, the fossils on display in this case have all been collected in the field personally by me, and prepared by me.  I am proud to put these on display, and hope that it will spark an interest in others to this hobby.