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Research & Collections

Alabama Avocational Paleontologist Award

The Alabama Avocational Paleontologist Award honors an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the field of paleontology in Alabama. This person is an avocational (amateur) paleontologist defined as someone who does not have a formal education in paleontology and does not have a paid job in this field. The individual does not necessarily have to live in Alabama. In rare cases, the award may be offered to multiple people at the same time, where deemed appropriate. This annual award is made available by the Alabama Museum of Natural History and the Department of Museum Research & Collections (both part of the University of Alabama Museums).

Outstanding contributions to Alabama paleontology can be varied: (1) collecting, preparing, and donating fossils, (2) outreach/education to the general public, (3) participating in scientific research or popular writing, (4) promoting collaboration between avocational and professional paleontologists, (5) volunteering at a museum or other institution, and/or (6) helping to preserve fossil sites.

The award consists of an engraved plaque for the recipient to be presented at the Alabama Museum of Natural History, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, during the celebration of National Fossil Day in October each year, whenever possible. The name of each awardee will also be engraved in another plaque that will be displayed in a future exhibit in the Alabama Museum of Natural History about the role of avocational paleontologists along with fossils found by avocational paleontologists. Recipients will be announced through a news release and on social media.

A committee consisting of the UA Museums’ Curator of Paleontology, an Alabama Paleontological Society representative, and a Birmingham Paleontological Society representative will determine the recipient for each year. Nominations for the award can be submitted electronically to the Curator of Paleontology (Adiel Klompmaker, aaklompmaker@ua.edu) each year prior to September 1st, but a nomination is not required to be considered.

List of recipients:

T. Prescott Atkinson.
T. Prescott Atkinson

2020 – T. Prescott Atkinson

The inaugural ALAP award was awarded to Prescott for his enormous contributions to Alabama paleontology spanning about five decades. Prescott has collected and donated many thousands of fossils to multiple museums, including vertebrates, invertebrates, plants, and tracks. Among his many discoveries in Alabama are a Late Cretaceous dinosaur egg from Harrell Station and rare insect wings from the Pennsylvanian of northern Alabama. Furthermore, Prescott has played a key role in the preservation and management of the Stephen C. Minkin Paleozoic Footprint Site (Union Chapel Mine) in Walker County, Alabama. Prescott is the vice-president of the Alabama Paleontological Society, arranging monthly talks. He is also an author of multiple scientific and popular papers in paleontology, and he has participated in various outreach events. In sum, the committee concluded that Prescott is a very worthy first recipient of this award. View the news release and the recorded live broadcast.

2021 – Ronald J. Buta

Dr. Ron Buta posing with a trackway consisting of three parts, all of which he found on different visits to the Crescent Valley Mine. These are primitive reptile footprints called Cincosaurus cobbi.
Ronald J. Buta

Ron Buta’s contributions to Alabama paleontology are very substantial and his efforts mainly revolve around fossil trackways from the Pennsylvanian of Alabama. He wrote the book ‘Footprints in Stone’ (2016) together with David Kopaska-Merkel and he is one of the editors of a book consisting of many scientific articles titled ‘Pennsylvanian footprints in the Black Warrior Basin of Alabama’ (2005) in which he authored and co-authored multiple chapters. He also wrote several other articles. In many of his writings, he collaborated with professional paleontologists. Impressively, Ron collected and donated several thousands of fossils to museum collections in Alabama, mostly from the Crescent Valley Mine in Walker County. Furthermore, Ron has participated in various outreach events and he played an important role in saving the Union Chapel Mine for paleontology. Ron’s vast contributions to paleontology have local, national, and international impact and many generations to come will benefit from his work. Read the news release here.