Jack Boyland is a “freelance” (avocational) paleontologist in New Jersey, who through his field work and discoveries has improved our understanding of the fossil record there. He is affiliated with the Delaware Valley Paleontological Society and the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey. We are pleased to present this interview with him, in which he shares his enthusiasm for all things paleontological.
How did you become interested in paleontology?
I was always fascinated by dinosaurs ever since childhood. It wasn’t until I was nine years old that I went on my first fossil hunt with my club (Delaware Paleontological Society) that my passion really took hold. I remember visiting the famous St. Clair fossil site and feeling like a kid on Christmas morning being surrounded by so many amazing fern fossils. I would spend many weekends exploring fossil sites and eventually discovering my own localities after much persistence and dedication to my passion of paleontology.
What is your favorite type of fossil or location for fossil hunting?
My favorite fossils to find are dinosaur footprints. I have collected these since I discovered my very first one at the age of thirteen in a location that had never been prospected for fossils in the past. Since that discovery, I was fortunate to learn a lot more about ichnology (the study of trace fossils) by reading literature, working in the field with professionals – such as the leading expert on Newark Supergroup paleontology and geology, Paul Olsen of Columbia University – and poring through geological maps to hone in on areas that I felt had potential to produce these fossils. The biggest thing is developing a trained eye to spot a dinosaur track, and knowing how to dial in on layers that will yield these fossils.
What was your favorite discovery or field experience?
I can’t say I have a single favorite find or field experience, but I do have several of each that do stand out. One of my best field experiences was my week of digging the Eocene Green River Formation of Wyoming last summer. I was lucky enough to dig several horizons in several quarries, including the “Split Fish” and “18 Inch” layers. My very last day of digging proved to be the most memorable of the trip when I discovered an 18-inch long Heliobatis radians fossil stingray at the American Fossil (South Dempsey) Quarry. The specimen was discovered in cross section and was in several pieces, but fortunately I was able to have it reassembled and professionally prepared, which revealed it was complete!
Have you donated specimens to professional institutions or contributed to professional research? If so, explain.
There are several museums that I have donated some of my better discoveries to. The first is the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey, which if any of you ever get the chance to visit, just remember to see the Paleontological Timeline Exhibit in the Fossil gallery! Two of my discoveries are on permanent display there: a dinosaur footprint from the [Late] Triassic Passaic Formation and a fossil fish from the [Early] Jurassic Towaco Formation, both New Jersey specimens! Apart from this, both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania state museums have Newark Basin fossils in their collections I donated.
Is there anything else you want to say about avocational paleontology?
In regards to avocational paleontology or any avocation in general, I have this to say. If you are passionate about something, stick with it and never lose sight of it. Paleontology has been my passion since I can remember, and when I have time to engage in it outside my full-time job, I leap at the opportunity. For me, paleontology is an escape, it’s refreshing, rewarding, and most important always interesting. Fossil hunting is an activity that always brings joy to me and puts my mind at ease. In closing, the things you enjoy in life will always bring happiness your way and the thrill of never knowing what you may find is that drive that fuels my passion of paleontology.
Are you an avocational paleontologist and want to connect with an international community of paleontologists? Then you might consider joining the Paleontological Society, which offers discounted memberships for avocational paleontologists. Join online here.