This is the first of what we hope will be a continuing series of interviews with the people of paleontology. This interview is with Cam Muskelly, a recent graduate of Duluth High School (Duluth, Georgia), who represented paleontology as an invited speaker at the Atlanta March for Science on April 22, 2017. He was also the youngest speaker at the event that day! One of us (Anthony “Tony” Martin of Emory University) was lucky enough to talk with Cam after his presentation and ask him for some reflections about paleontology.
(1) When did you first get interested in paleontology?
I became interested in paleontology from various dinosaur toys I received and movies I watched when I was three years old. When I was about six years old, my parents took me to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, Georgia. There I saw the skeletons of the largest dinosaurs ever discovered at the time, displayed in the Great Hall of the museum. One was a long-necked and long-tailed dinosaur known as Argentinosaurus and a large carnivorous dinosaur known as Giganotosaurus. They were absolutely enormous animals! After that experience, I checked out every book there was on dinosaurs at my local and school libraries. It wasn’t until I was seven that I was introduced to a fossil collection from a teacher and later found my first fossil. I taught myself how to identify rocks, fossils, and minerals. I would categorize, display, and store them. That is when I knew I wanted to be a paleontologist.
(2) What do you enjoy about paleontology?
I enjoy a lot of things about the science of paleontology. I love reading the scientific papers and articles on new discoveries. I have stacks of papers of articles that I have gained over the years. In fact, I have folders and binders filled with nothing but papers and articles on paleontology and geology. I also love being out in the field looking for fossils. When you find a fossil, you are the very first person ever to lay eyes on it. A fossil can be burrows, bones, shells, and if you’re really lucky, an articulated skeleton. Fossils are the gateway to lost worlds. Seeing and finding the remnants of ancient organisms that lived millions of years ago is what drives me as a paleontologist.
(3) What’s your favorite fossil and why?
Favorite? That is like asking what your favorite type of ice cream is! I have two groups of fossils that I favor (even over dinosaurs). My first pick are the trilobites. A trilobite was the first fossil I ever found and was one of the few fossils I saw in my teacher’s fossil collection when I was younger. They are an extinct class of arthropods that are the poster children of the Paleozoic Era. I am currently working on a paper about a trilobite species that my colleague and I rediscovered In Georgia. My second group are the crinoids. I have a great collection of these marine animals consisting of stems and calyces.
(4) What do you hope to achieve by speaking at and otherwise participating in the Science March?
One of the things I hope to do is inspire people and let people know that science is a never-ending process. The more we find, the more we add to the story of the elaborate history of the earth and of the cosmos.
(5) Why do you think it’s important for more people to know about paleontology?
Paleontology is important because it uses evidence from past lives and environments to tell what will happen to our planet. Who should you ask about climate change? A paleontologist, of course! As the great geologist Charles Lyell once said, “the present is key to the past.” Paleontologists can use the smallest fossil organisms, such as foraminifera and pollen spores, to tell what climate and past environments were like. The more we learn about the science of paleontology, the better we can understand our place on planet Earth.
(6) What would you like to do in the future related to paleontology?
I love learning about everything there is to know about paleontology. It is more than just dinosaurs! My main focus is becoming a historical geologist. That way I can focus on the entire history of the Earth. I would like to teach courses in historical geology and teach others about fossils. Another thing I am interested in doing is looking for more dinosaur material in the eastern part of the United States. The first dinosaur material in Georgia was found in the 1970s. Cretaceous geology is poorly studied here, so I would like to see if there is any more material waiting to be found. For now, I will just wait and see.
Post authored by Anthony (Tony) Martin and edited by Taormina (Tara) Lepore.