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More Facts

>From:  IN%"VRTPALEO@VM.USC.EDU"  "The Vertebrate Paleontology Community 
>discussion list" 20-MAR-1995 19:48:00.06
To:     IN%"VRTPALEO@VM.USC.EDU"  "Multiple recipients of list VRTPALEO"
Subj:   RE: Nebraska

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Date: Mon, 20 Mar 1995 20:41:51 -0600
>From: gregory brown <gbrown@UNLINFO.UNL.EDU>
Subject: Re: Nebraska
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> Date:    Sat, 18 Mar 1995 11:51:22 -0700
> From:    John Alroy <jack@HOMEBREW.GEO.ARIZONA.EDU>
> Subject: Nebraska
> I'm sure Greg Brown will comment, but I can't bear to have Nebraska's
> good name sullied by the implication that it lacks Tertiary rocks.
> After all, it's the most important state in the nation when it comes
> to the Miocene vertebrate record; is covered with Tertiary rocks from
> Ashfall State Park in the north-eastern corner all the way to the
> Agate area in Sioux County, bordering on Wyoming and South Dakota;
> and has a virtually complete mammal fossil record from the late
> Eocene (Chadronian) through to the late Pleistocene. Only Wyoming has
> a more important mammal fossil record, Winterfeld's own thesis being
> one of many contributions to the spectacular early Tertiary record of
> that state. Perhaps we are seeing a bit of Wyoming chauvinism in
> action...

Hmmm.  When I see a post begin with "I'm sure Greg Brown will
comment..." I begin to think I'd better keep my mouth shut more

It looks like there's been a bit of "syntactical obfuscation" going
on.  Obviously Nebraska has great Tertiary...and obviously lots of
Nebraska does have pre-Tertiary rocks at the surface (not to mention
all the *post* Tertiary!)...and of course, we aren't tripping over
mammoths all the time.  Actually, in all the years I've been working
for the State Museum, I've only bloodied my toe once on a mammoth.

Seriously, though, the article posted around various discussion lists
(authored by Zenker) is a very sad indication of just how pervasive
misinformation can be.

Although my better judgement says "don't do it", I'll repost my
previous response to the "3000 elephants per square mile"
balogna-ridden "fact sheet".

Obviously, few people on this list need to be told that this is really
cheap lunch meat, but here goes anyhow:

Copy follows:

That may have been the quote from the newspaper (I didn't read
it), but that was not what was said, nor (obviously) is it
true...a fact that, I assure you, the authors of this "fact
sheet" know very well.

In fact, this was a class exercise to show how rare
"fossilization" is, and how uncommon "common" fossils actually
are.  The context of the comments follows:

Proboscideans (mammoths, mastodons, and gomphotheres),
collectively, lived in Nebraska for about 15,000,000 years.
That's about 1,000,000 generations.  If you estimate the carrying
capacity of the land and modern African analogues, figure 10
elephants lived on each square mile.  A little math indicates
that as many as 10,000,000 elephants lived (and died!) on each
square mile of Nebraska over 15,000,000 years!  So 10,000,000
elephants, which have the most robust and "preservable" bones and
teeth of any land animal, may have left (a rough estimated
average) 3000 _fragments_ per "square mile" in the fossil record
in Nebraska rocks.  Based on an average thickness of 300 feet of
potentially fossiliferous rock, that works out to less than one
fragment showing at the surface for every 170 square miles of
continuous outcrop, if my math is correct.  Actually, of course,
the "3000" figure was originally derived working backward from
this estimate of observed average surface occurrence. In any
event, I doubt that fits anyone's definition of "common".

Now, here are some real facts, straight from our collections:

Nebraska does have probably the best preserved record of fossil
elephants in North America.  However, in 100+ years of
collecting, fewer than half a dozen relatively complete
proboscidean skeletons have been discovered in the state.

Most species of mammoths, mastodons, and gomphotheres in our
extensive collections are represented by only a few specimens
(not "skeletons"..."specimens", usually isolated teeth);  many
species are known from _single_ specimens.

This ratio holds true for our entire Tertiary fossil mammal
collection.  Countless species are known only from very
incomplete and sparse material.  As a matter of fact, for most of
the fossil mammals you see depicted in popular books, complete
skeletons are unknown!

The other points made on the "fact sheet" you refer to are
equally inaccurate or misleading.

In my opinion, this "fact sheet" is part of a long campaign of
misinformation, the sole purpose of which is to frighten and
mislead amateur groups into supporting a legislative bill which
would open public lands to commercial fossil-mining operations,
which would actually negatively impact both amateur collectors
and research paleontologists.  It is part of the same campaign
which convinced amateur groups to oppose the Baucus Bill on the
grounds that it would "outlaw amateur collecting on government
lands", when in reality, the Baucus Bill would actually have
opened public lands for amateur collectors for the first time
ever, and would have allowed amateurs to keep possession of the
fossils they collected.  What the Baucus Bill would _not_ have
done was allow commercial for-profit operations on public lands,
acknowledging the principle that public lands and resources are
held in trust for the _people_.

Unfortunately, the professional paleontological community is ill-
equipped to counter this kind of campaign.  One-on-one
cooperation between paleontologists and amateurs can not overcome
a well orchestrated lobby.  The sad thing is that it is the vast
amateur community which is being manipulated into supporting
legislation which is actually counter to their interests, while
opposing legislation which would open public lands for their
activities for the first time.

Sometimes truth and "good" have a difficult time prevailing...or
even being heard.

I'll post some information about Ashfall soon, and would be glad
to answer prep and field techniques questions as they arise.


End Repost.

Sorry for the long post...I'll just quietly slink back into hiding


  Gregory Brown        gbrown@unlinfo.unl.edu
  Chief Preparator
  Division of Vertebrate Paleontology
  University of Nebraska State Museum
  W-436 Nebraska Hall, Lincoln, NE 68588-0514