Alabama has a fantastic fossil record and many important fossils have been discovered by avocational (amateur/hobby) paleontologists. In 2020, a new award was created by the University of Alabama Museums honoring an avocational paleontologist who has made substantial contributions to paleontology in Alabama. The criteria for this award are diverse, but include making fossils available for scientific study and involvement in research and outreach activities.
In early September, the award committee had a meeting reviewing the contributions of the many deserving candidates. For this year, the committee selected George Martin from Auburn as the recipient of the Alabama Avocational Paleontologist Award (ALAP award). This award was officially presented to George during the celebration of National Fossil Day from 1–4 pm on Saturday October 15, a free event at the Alabama Museum of Natural History in Smith Hall on the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa.
“George Martin’s accomplishments for Alabama paleontology are truly outstanding,” said Dr. Adiel Klompmaker, University of Alabama Museums’ Curator of Paleontology and a member of the committee. George has been very active in paleontology through finding, preparing, and making available fossils by donating many thousands of them to multiple museums in the southeastern US. “The fossils George discovered have been and will be incredibly useful for scientific research by many paleontologists. For example, some fossils he found in Alabama turned out to be new species, including a crab and a turtle that have since been named after him. Other fossils he discovered are shown during outreach events, collection tours, and are on display in the museum for everyone to enjoy,” Dr. Klompmaker said.
One of the activities George enjoys is fossil preparation. “He is one of the best preparators of fossils in Alabama with a keen eye for detail, often working on both small and large fossils in his own lab at home,” Dr. Klompmaker mentioned. George has also been participating in various outreach activities, has co-authored a scientific paper, and he has been very generous with sharing his vast knowledge. The committee concluded that George is very deserving of the ALAP award.
“I am surprised and excited to even be considered,” George said in a first reaction. “I’m very honored to be the recipient of the Award. It’s great to be recognized, especially for doing something one loves to do. It’s always nice to know that ones’ work is valued by other people, especially in the scientific community.”
“Aside from donating and preparing fossils for several museums and locating new sites, I enjoy sharing my small collection with children and adults to help them become aware of the opportunities in Alabama to enjoy a fascinating hobby and possibly make important discoveries,” George said. He likes the thrill of the hunt, learning new things, and working with and meeting people with similar interests.
George has always been interested in nature and science. “I began by collecting artifacts in the fields around home and progressed to fossils as opportunities presented themselves. I worked as a Soil Scientist for 40+ years, so I was much aware of geology and never missed an opportunity to examine rock outcrops, which sometimes contained fossils. After retiring from full-time work about 15 years ago, I spend much of my free time collecting, preparing, and studying fossils,” he said. George plans to continue his field collecting activities and preparing fossils as long as he is able to.