Most of these questions have come from my students over the years.
You have a LOT of teeth in the collection. Why is that?
There are two main reasons for this. First, most vertebrates (except mammals and birds) routinely shed worn teeth and replace them with new ones. A shark, for example, can easily have thousands of teeth over its lifetime. Teeth are some of the most common fossils to be found, and some animal species are named solely based on teeth (such as Richardoestesia). These teeth are often found isolated, and unfortunately will not give us much of an idea of what an animal looked like by themselves. The second reason is that most teeth have an outer covering called enamel, which is one of the most durable substances found in nature. A tooth with an enamel covering stands a much better chance of preservation than the rest of the skull, whose bones tend to be rather thin and breakable.
Why do some of the fossils not have a complete name, or are called “unidentified?”
Sometimes, completely identifying an animal isn’t possible. The remains could have been found isolated, or extremely fragmented. A good example of this is the partial whale rib. I picked it up in a rock shop in Tintagel, England, and it was simply labeled as “whale rib.” Based on size, it probably is cetacean in origin, but beyond that, I’m not sure. Unless remains are found associated or articulated, many times a species identification can be tentative.
What do isolated, associated, and articulated mean?
Are a lot of the fossil bones found in humans too?
Yes, many of them are, and they often look similar. A good example of this is the Smilodon radius, which I have pictured next to a human radius. This phenomenon, called homology, usually points to a common ancestry between species.
There are also lots of casts and replicas. Why is that?
There are several reasons for this. First, some countries (China, for example) have VERY strict export bans put in place on fossils and other cultural artifacts. It is illegal to import and own such items from China, unless they predate the ban, which began in 2011. Second, casts are often the only way to get a specimen of a rare animal. For some species, only one individual has ever been found, and it is likely in a museum. Third…I have an infant who is starting to become mobile. If he’s going to break something (which I’m sure he eventually will), I’d really rather it be a cast than the real thing.
Would you ever let a paleontologist work with or view something from your collection?
Definitely yes. Should a paleontologist stumble upon my site, and see something that might be of scientific interest, all they would have to do is contact me, and I would gladly work with them. Most of the specimens I have probably don’t have any great scientific value, but one never knows.