What’s the value of a fossil?

I have the privilege to work as a professional paleontologist. Many people are excited by fossils and beasts from the past, and the media loves to cover new discoveries. Periodically, a friend will ask if I had heard of the latest fossil find being discussed by the media, almost always touted as the latest, the greatest, the biggest, or the best example of whatever. With genuine enthusiasm my friend will ask how thrilled I am about it. While I really appreciate their eagerness for me and my profession, when the fossils were collected by someone hoping to sell them I have to say, no, I am not really excited about the find.

My friend will usually blink a few times, trying to understand how I could feel that way. How can I help them understand why academic paleontologists are not excited by such specimens? Why if I have dedicated my career to learning about life of the past would I not even be interested in seeing such fossils? Wouldn’t all scientists be falling over themselves with glee to see these treasures? No.

The latest example is the so-called Dueling Dinosaurs from Montana, and much has been written about them, a meat-eating and a plant-eating dinosaur found together, promoted as having died in mortal combat. But these fossils are simply the latest example in the long-standing conflict between science and the commercialization of fossils. The key to easily understanding this conflict is to understand the two very different ways of appraising the value of a fossil: commercial and scientific.

We are immersed in the commercial value of things. Everything has a price. All around us in everyday life we see prices placed on goods and services. We are so comfortable making judgments about the monetary value of items we even have game shows like the Price is Right where we compete with each other to do so.

Additionally, we are familiar with collectors of all types. Art collectors, people who collect baseball cards, or old bottles. We occasionally hear of a rare collectable item selling for high prices, and fossils seem like they could be in that same category of potentially valuable collectable items.

"Sues skeleton" by Connie Ma from Chicago, United States of America - Sue, the world's largest and most complete dinosaur skeleton.Uploaded by FunkMonk. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sues_skeleton.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Sues_skeleton.jpg

“Sues skeleton” by Connie Ma from Chicago, United States of America – Sue, the world’s largest and most complete dinosaur skeleton.Uploaded by FunkMonk. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

High-profile fossils have occasionally been valued at very high market values. The Tyrannosaurus “Sue” sold at auction for over 8 million dollars. Recently another similar dinosaur was to be sold for over a million. The sellers of the Dueling Dinosaurs are reported to want 7 to 9 million. And the implication is clear—you can get rich on dinosaurs.

In our market-based society it is easy for non-scientists to think that market value must be the same as scientific value. High-dollar fossils must be worth more to science, right? This equivocation, however, is false.

To appraise the market value of a fossil you have to know what a willing buyer will pay a willing seller under current market conditions.

The scientific value of a fossil is very simply its ability to add to existing knowledge. To appraise the scientific value one needs to know about all the research that has taken place to date, all the specimens currently known to science, and an individual fossil’s potential to tell us something we didn’t already know.

The issue hinges on the fact that for a fossil to have high scientific value we must be extremely confident in the reliability of the information that accompanies it. The commercial collection of fossils is usually driven by other pressures, and unfortunately there are far too many examples where the information valued by scientists is not collected. Or worse, where the information is unreliable or even falsified. Too frequently people looking to sell fossils for large monetary gain collected the fossils illegally, or dishonestly, and then seek to hide those facts from buyers. The temptation of large payoffs is often too great.

From a scientific stand point the value of a fossil is significantly reduced if we do not know, or cannot rely on, certain basic information. Where did the fossil come from? Who collected it? Can we be sure it is one fossil or is it a composite of two or more fossils? Could it be a forgery? Do we have records of the fossil’s context with the surrounding rocks? What did the rocks tell us about the environment in which it was buried? What other fossils were found with it that would give clues to the environment in which it lived? What clues were with the fossil that may have gotten removed during the preparation of the fossil?

The primary “currency” of academic paleontologists is integrity—if our colleagues lose trust in our work and our word we have nothing. So, there is little incentive to deceive or falsify our data or claims, and in fact there is a great potential for career-ending consequences if one is caught being dishonest.

Unfortunately that is not the case for commercial collectors. In a climate where you can sell a fossil for millions of dollars you just need to do that once to be set for life. The integrity and motivations of commercial collectors is then suspect; there are just too many examples of theft, lies, and deceit.

I am not implying anything about the people involved in the Dueling Dinosaurs. Rather, I am saying that the general lack of academic enthusiasm for their fossils is because of past experience. The prices demanded are out of reach of museums and the risk of obtaining false data is just too great. When the next biggest, best, and rarest fossil comes around we must watch their sale with detached sadness, and hope for the best.

Perhaps the Dueling Dinosaurs will end up at a museum, and maybe any questions about the integrity of those fossils can be satisfactorily addressed. Perhaps those fossils will become a conversation piece in someone’s trophy room, and if so they will likely be lost forever to science and by extension to all of us.

Fortunately, the public lands of the United States are available to researchers, where the ownership of fossils is clearly established to be the public, and commercial value plays no role. There, and on private land generously made available by land owners, scientists and genuine amateur enthusiasts can collect, study, and learn about the past with fossils that can advance our knowledge.

For the landowners, field collectors, and the people involved in buying and selling fossils I guess I have to say I don’t blame you for your interest. Fossils are cool. And if you make a million dollars, I guess good for you. However, understand that the commercial collection and sale of fossils has virtually nothing to do with the science of paleontology. The only commonality between the two is the fossils, and whereas commercial fossils may have a high market value, their scientific value is severely compromised.

Organic Gardening: 7 Things You Can Repurpose to Use in Your Garden

It makes both good sense, and good cents, to grow your own vegetables at home in an organic garden. No matter how much or how little space and/or time you have, you can still plant a container garden and harvest some home grown tomatoes and peppers. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or trying out your green thumb for the first time in organic gardening, try these ideas for 7 things you can recycle to use in your garden.

Food Scraps

Any food items other than meat scraps or grease can be recycled into compost and used to enrich your soil, which in turn feeds plants and enables them to yield a bigger harvest. Used coffee grounds and crumbled egg shells are two of the best soil amendments and can be placed directly on top of the soil (in-ground or container gardens) to nourish plants. Create a small compost pile to toss other food scraps until they decompose into ‘black gold’ then work into garden soil for free and chemical-free compost.

Tin Cans

Large tin cans, like those that spaghetti sauce or juice come in, can be recycled and used as feeding and watering tubes for garden plants. Wash the tin cans and cut both ends. Dig a hole the size of the tin can in the garden soil and place the can in the soil, then plant a few vegetables around the can. Use the open-ended tin can to deliver water directly to plant roots throughout the growing season. Make compost tea to pour in the cans to provide organic food to plants.

Recycled Mulch

Grass clippings and tree leaves (raked during the fall) provide free, organic mulch for vegetable plants. Mulch helps keep the soil cool, retain moisture and discourage weed growth.

Plastic Milk Jugs

Get a head start on the growing season by using clean plastic milk jugs as mini greenhouses. Cut the bottom fourth off a gallon milk jug and place over tiny vegetable seedlings to provide them with protection from the elements and create a greenhouse environment. Remove lid on warm days and replace during cold nights.

Plastic Buckets

Food grade plastic buckets that are used in the deli and restaurant industry are perfect for recycling into harvesting buckets. The size, handles and lids make these buckets perfect for carrying to the garden to harvest fresh produce and for transporting vegetables.

Pantyhose

Many vegetable plants, like tomatoes and cucumbers, need to be staked and tied to keep them off the ground during the growing season. Nothing beats strips of used pantyhose for tying vegetable plants to their support system. Pantyhose stretch and will not cut into tender vines like rope or twine will and the nylon fabric is strong enough to last all summer.

Recycled Support

Tree limbs that have been pruned can be fashioned into a tee-pee for supporting climbing veggies, like cucumbers and sugar snap peas. Old iron headboards, fence posts or shovel handles or other tall, portable items can be given new life in an organic garden as vegetable stakes and trellises to keep produce off the ground.

Jeremy Aarons writes about home improvement, parenting and all things related to being a stay at home dad. Recently, he’s explored his journey earning a sociology degree online while spearheading a communal garden for his neighborhood.

 

Simple Outdoor Home Security Projects

Protecting your home is easier than you think. More often than not, people choose not to protect their home because they think the cost is astronomical or that nothing will ever happen to them. However, there are a lot of security projects that you can implement around your home for little to no cost, but that can actually boost your security portfolio as much as larger projects would.

This post is designed to share these outdoor security tips in the hope that someone will jump on these projects to protect themselves before anything happens. While these tips will not stop all burglars, it can help deter most criminals to keep you and your family safe.

Security Sign

Here are some simple home security tips and projects:

–          Mind your landscaping. Your landscaping can say a lot about you, but one thing you don’t want it to say is, “rob me!” However, it is very common to find an overgrown lawn or an unattended row of bushes. To a burglar, this means that you might be away on vacation. Regularly trim your lawn and the rest of your landscaping. When it comes to bushes around your home, keep them three feet or shorter in height. Taller bushes provide a hiding place for burglars so they can work without being noticed.

–          Trim the trees that come within 7-9 feet of your home. Burglars can climb these trees and make a jump for a second story window. You may think it sounds impossible, but it does happen. Trimming these trees is also beneficial for neighborhood support. More often than not, your neighbors are the ones spotting something out of place so having trimmed trees where passersby can see your lawn will ward off burglars.

–          Put gravel around the immediate perimeter of your home. This acts like a security alarm for any burglars prowling around your windows. Burglars will try to avoid making any possible noise. Stepping on a large trail of pebbles will easily give them away so a potential burglar might move on.

–          Put home security signs around your home. Four out of 5 burglars said that they are deterred by a home security sign outside. Burglars don’t want to risk any chance of being caught so if it comes down to your home with a sign and your neighbor’s without, they would be more likely to go next door.

–          An additional security measure you could take is adding a surveillance system to your home. If you think it is overly expensive, there are other options such as a fake security camera. These look like the real thing and even have a battery operated “recording light.” This can help ward off many burglars who avoid wearing masks or disguises to better blend in like a person who should be there. They don’t want to be caught on camera and a surveillance system, real or fake, can help protect your home.

These are just some of the simple steps that you can take to protect your home. These projects are designed to increase the security of your home without breaking the bank.

About the Author: Dan Miller is a writer and home security expert for http://www.homesecuritydeals.com. He seeks to provide low cost security solutions for those looking to protect themselves. When he is not working on a DIY project, he is watching football with his lovely wife.

World Renowned Hikes in Utah

Have you ever seen stunning pictures in National Geographic and wished you could visit those far away fairy tale lands? Well if you are anywhere in North America you need not to wish for some vacation that would cost you all of your life savings. Utah has some of the most stunning locations in the world and the hikes take you right into the heart of these incredible landscapes. Here are some of the most well known and worth while hikes.

Angels Landing

This incredible hike has stunning views, terrifying cliffs, and some of the most incredible hiking known to man. It is located in Zion National Park and is a short 5 miles. That isn’t to say that it isn’t rather difficult, as the vertical climb is about 1500 feet, but the overall distance keeps it from being overly strenuous. The Angels Landing hike starts at the Groto Picnic area. Hikers cross the Virgin River and follow the West Rim Trail towards and them up a rather large cliff face.

Once the switchbacks have been climbed there is a nice one mile stretch through Refrigerator Canyon. This tall and thin canyon stays in the shade all day except at noon, so temperatures are refreshing. To climb out of the canyon another set a switchbacks needs to be climbed, that then lead to Scout Lookout. The views are incredible and at this point hikers split away from the West Rim trail and traverse the narrow Angels Landing trail to the final point. This portion of the trail can be dangerous if one does not hold to the chains and follow safety precautions. Everyone who hikes it confirms that it looks far more dangerous and scary than it really is, and that the views at the end are totally worth the fear factor. These views and this portion of the trail are what makes it world renowned, and so highly recommended.

Delicate Arch

This hike leads to one of the most world famous arches in existence. Located in Arches National Park you can view the arch just 100 yards from the asphalt. Some people enjoy this view, as they have many other things planned and little time to complete their vacation to do list, but with the hike being just over 1 mile each way this is a hike that is a no brainer.

Photographers and artists love to visit this location as their perceptions and abilities to portray the arch can lead one to see many different angles and visions of its beauty. Keep in mind that spring and fall are the best times to make the trek due to the heat of summer and the chance of uncomfortably cold weather in the winter. Don’t forget to see the Native American rock art that is just to the side of the trail head.

Calf Creek Falls

Calf Creek Falls is the major feature of the BLM’s Calf Creek Recreation Area. The trail meanders through cliff faces streaked with color from run off rich with minerals. Beaver damns litter the creek and fill its winding bends with small ponds. Additional beauty is found throughout the canyon with many Native American rock art features.

The trial has a round-trip distance of 5 1/2 miles. This is an easy stroll as there is little elevation gain, but most of the trail is covered in sand. This makes it a little more difficult than your average walk in the park. Do keep in mind that the summer months can get especially hot, and if you decide to brave the weather keep lots of drinking water on hand. There is a pool at the base of the falls that many hikers take a dip in before their return hike, making it well worth the summer trip.

Visiting any of these three hikes is well worth the time and the trip. There are many more hikes and places to visit within Utah that hold a status of world fame, just take some time to research a few more activities to create the vacation of a life time.

How To Make Jerky For A Reliable, No-Fuss Food Source

Learning how to dehydrate meats (or create ‘jerky’) is a good skill to have for people who spend a lot of time outdoors. Jerky can last for up to a month at room temperature, requires no preparation to eat, and is lighter than regular foods since the moisture has been removed. It’s great for hiking and fishing trips, or spending a lot of time outdoors without the equipment to prepare food.

This advice applies to most meats, including chicken, beef (roast is best), and turkey.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

1)      A working kitchen, with a fridge and a stove, and various utensils.

2)      2 lb of the meat you would like to dehydrate. Go with the leanest cut you can find, as fat will go rancid and reduce the shelf life of your jerky.

3)      A marinating sauce. Olive oil and salt is popular, as is the Soy/Worchester/garlic/salt and pepper mix, but feel free to experiment and find one that works for you.

4)      Ziploc bags for storage

HOW TO DO IT:

1)      Slice your meat into as thin strips as possible. A great idea is to go to a deli, and have it sliced into 1/16th of an inch strips. The thinner they are, the better your jerky will be.

2)      Trim off any excess fat with a knife. This will make your jerky last longer.

3)      Put your strips into a bowl with your marinating sauce. Mix it up.

4)      Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let marinate in the fridge for 2 hours.

5)      Put the contents of your bowl into a pot or sauce pan. Put a stove burner on high, and boil for five minutes to kill all bacteria.

6)      Lay your meat slices onto a paper towel, and let them drain.

7)      Place your meat slices onto the racks of your oven. Set the oven to 160 F, and keep the door open an inch or two to help with air flow.

8)      Cook the meat for 6 to 12 hours. You want all moisture to be removed. You’ll know when it is when the meat cracks, but bends and doesn’t snap.

9)      Remove your slices from the oven and let them cool completely.

10)   Put your slices into an air-tight Ziploc bag, to keep it fresh for as long as possible. Your jerky will be good for a month at room temperature, and can be frozen and last up to 6 months.

Good luck and stay prepared!

Read more from RamboMoe at preparedforthat.com