Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Mission is this

The official aims of the expedition read:

Fossils tell incredibly rich stories about the life of the past, but these relics can also shed light on the present. To some, they are evolutionary heirlooms - to others, valuable commodities. By exploring the world's famous fossil producing regions, I hope to discover how the cultural, scientific and economic value of fossils from around the world is influenced by the human perception of ancient life. I will immerse myself in the turbulent travels of resurrected fossils in search of the secret thread connecting the past and the present.


What is implicit in all of that is the nagging question about why we should really care about fossils at all. They are, seriously, just dead stuff.

How does a resource that is valuable economically, scientifically and mythologically work within a given culture? Since fossils are tied very closely to the place where you find them by the dicta of geology, and place corresponds with culture, there is an important story here for anybody who is interested in ancient life and evolution. The evolutionist sees a fossil as an heirloom of natural history, to the preacher it's a prank, for the shaman something else, and just about anyone can grok the cash value of important relics to collectors. Why do we care about fossils, and who shares the land with them?

The solid practicalities of place are becoming blurrier every few minutes as we try harder and harder to make sure every spot on the globe is connected by fiber optic cable and fossil-burning freight trails. Sharing the land with a particular resource, at least for us Americans, is much less important than sharing a trucking line with one. But it hasn't always been this way. For most of our history as humans our lives have been shaped always by place. What kind of soil is there? What's the climate, wait, are there man-eating predators? water close by? rocks, trees, dirt, sand, river, what have you? There remain, thank god, scattered chunks of map where these things still matter. And what if fossils are part of that place? Does it make a difference? How many stories can our species dream up to explain such fossil anomalies? Does it strike anyone else as odd that our society has an entire caste of very smart professionals who are engaged in precisely that task?

I don't mind, sign me up.


  1. Did you put your "e-signature" on the dotted line?

  2. It is an honor and a pleasure to play host on the first stop of your year-long megaventure. New Zealand awaits the Patrician...

  3. You are...the coolest guy i know...for sure