For many decades, avocational (hobby/amateur) paleontologists have made very substantial contributions to this fascinating science in Alabama. To recognize the selfless efforts of these individuals, The University of Alabama Museums erected the Alabama Avocational Paleontologist Award in 2020.
In 2023, the award recipient is Dr. Harry (“Bing”) Blewitt, a retired chemistry professor at the University of Alabama. Bing has been volunteering in the paleontology collections of the Alabama Museum of Natural History since 1999. During his 25 years as a volunteer, he has spent around 7,500 hours in the collections. He received the award during the Alabama Museum of Natural History’s National Fossil Day celebration event on October 28 in Smith Hall.
One of his main contributions is the complete reorganization of the vertebrate paleontology collection between 2009 and 2011. Bing is also a co-author of a scientific paper published in 2013, did outreach by exciting children about fossils, prepared fossils including a near complete mosasaur currently on display nicknamed Artemis, donated dozens of fossils he found, and he has cataloged and put away thousands of specimens in the collection. The committee concluded that Bing is very deserving of the Alabama Avocational Paleontologist Award.
Bing said he was surprised, flattered, and impressed when he learned that he was selected for the award. “It is always nice to win an award because it means that some group recognized that you have made a valuable contribution in some area,” Bing mentioned.
His passion for fossils started in 1999 for Bing: “I taught a science seminar in UA’ New College program and we had two paleo majors, James Lamb and Tad Rust. These two insisted on talking about paleontology frequently and soon they had me hooked. My interest continued to grow, and I was able to obtain a volunteer position.”
Bing became particularly fascinated by ancient predators roaming the ocean in central and southern Alabama during the Cretaceous called mosasaurs, some of which he prepared. He has counted over 1,000 mosasaur records in the ALMNH collection, making it one of the largest mosasaur collections in the world.
Many avocational paleontologists enjoy field work most, but this is not the case for Bing: “The feeling involved in field work will always be thrilling, but for some reason I have always preferred working in the lab (fossil organizing and preparation).”
Since 2011, the thousands of vertebrate specimens of the collection are organized by taxonomic group due to Bing’s tireless efforts. “I would like to think that the ALMNH fossil collection is now easier for researchers from UA and other institutions to use,” Bing said.
Dr. Adiel Klompmaker, UA Museums’ Curator of Paleontology mentioned: “We are extremely grateful for everything Bing has done for the ALMNH collection and paleontology in Alabama in general. His enthusiasm and dedication are truly remarkable! Without his efforts, the vertebrate paleontology collection would not be in the shape it is today. So many students and researchers have benefitted and continue to benefit from his work behind the scenes.”
Through his volunteer activities in paleontology, Bing said that the friendships he made have become an important part of his life. Over the last couple of years, Bing has been working on relabeling the vertebrate paleontology collection. He hopes to complete this project.