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, preferably to Alabama institutions; (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.


2023 – Dr. Harry (“Bing”) Blewitt

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. 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. Read the news release here.

2022 – George Martin

George Martin has found and donated many thousands of fossils to museum in the southeastern US, some of which have subsequently been described as new species including a crab, a turtle, and a shark. George has a keen eye for finding both small invertebrate fossils and larger vertebrate fossils, which he then prepares in his own lab at home as needed. As one of the best fossils preparators in Alabama, George has spent hundreds of hours liberating fossils from the surrounding rock and cleaning as well as sorting them. These include fossils that were donated subsequently, but also specimens from museum collections. George has also participated in various outreach activities for both adults and children, has co-authored a scientific paper, and he has been very generous with sharing his vast knowledge with the scientific community. His contributions to Alabama paleontology will have a lasting effect, as many generations of paleontologists will make use of fossils he found/prepared. Read also the news article about the 2022 award announcement.

2021 – 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.

Prescott Atkinson with award

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.