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Meet a Paleontologist

Eric ScottEric Scott putting a plaster jacket on an Ice Age mammoth tooth in Las Vegas, Nevada.

 

Eric Scott Eric measuring a fossil horse skull in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

 

Eric Scott Eric teaching local students about sabre-toothed cats and their eating habits, using fossils from the Rancho La Brea "tar pits" in California.

Eric Scott

Curator of Paleontology

San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands, California


NFD Kid's Page Interview...

What is your job, and what do you study?

I am a vertebrate paleontologist - I study animals with backbones. I am Curator of Paleontology for the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands, California, and also an adjunct instructor at California State University, San Bernardino. My main focus is on Ice Age mammals - mostly horses and bison, with some tapirs thrown in for fun. (Tapirs are cool.)

What are you working on now?

Our team is finding Ice Age fossils in Las Vegas, Nevada and in Joshua Tree National Park, where we've discovered hundreds of localities and thousands of fossils - so those projects are keeping me very busy. Beyond that, my own research examines Ice Age horse evolution and extinction in western North America - it's amazing how much we still don't know about these animals! I'm studying horse fossils from Vegas and Joshua Tree, from the Rancho La Brea "tar pits" in Los Angeles, from multiple different cave sites all over the Mojave Desert, from Texas and Colorado, from Alaska and the Yukon, and even from Mexico. I'm trying to determine how many species of horses we had here during the Ice Ages, why they went extinct, and how that can inform our understanding of the biology of living wild horses.

Where did you go to school? What were some of your favorite classes that you took?

I did my undergraduate work at California State University, Northridge, then went to graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles, where I got my degree. As you'd expect, I really loved the classes where bones and fossils were the focus - osteology, vertebrate morphology, paleoanthropology, and so forth. But I supplemented my schooling by volunteering at natural history museums, and that’s actually where a lot of my "hands on" learning took place - and where I learned to love learning.

Was there an experience you had that made you realize you wanted to be a paleontologist?

When I was five or six years old, my mother gave me a book called "The How and Why Wonder Book of Dinosaurs". I was hooked from then on. As a teen, I got a little sidetracked by other things - girls, cars, the usual teenager stuff. But then I started volunteering at the George C. Page Museum at the "tar pits" when I turned 16, and that locked me right into paleontology. In 1982, I read Donald Johanson's book "Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind", and that book sold me on the idea that I could have a career working with fossils. (The movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark" helped, too!)

What is your most memorable experience working with fossils?

There are so many experiences! I have lots of great memories from field work, from working in museums, and from meeting fellow paleontologists who are now great friends. But I suspect the best experience was finding fossils in the Mojave Desert in May, 1994, when I also met a young paleontology student named Kim, who is now my wife. You just can't beat a discovery like that!

Do you have any advice for aspiring paleontologists?

Get your hands dirty! Get involved. Don't just focus on schooling - find a local institution and see if you can volunteer there. Do that, and you'll get to work with fossils in a way schools frequently don't provide. If you do study formally, don't just look for science classes - get proficient at writing and reading, too, since those are critical tools for any scientist.


NFD Kid's Page Paleontologist Interviews:

Cassi Knight  Roy Plotnick  Thomas Holtz  Sidney Ash  Joshua Samuels  Alan Titus  Vince Santucci  Josh Bonde 
Michelle Pinsdorf  Glenn W. Storrs  Rebecca Hunt-Foster  Arthur J. Boucot  Robert B. Blodgett  Greg McDonald  Eric Scott  Sally Shelton 
Hans Deitre-Sues  Jim Kirkland  Alton Dooley  Karen Chin  Erica Clites  Katie Loughney  Richard Kissel  Andrew Heckert 
John Repetski  Christy Visaggi  John Hoganson  Scott Foss  Bruce Schumacher  Scott Sampson  Greg Liggett  Jere Lipps 
Matthew Miller  David Brezinski  James Hagadorn  Kari Prassack  Tony Fiorillo  Mike Fracasso 

Cassi Knight
Roy Plotnick
Thomas Holtz
Sidney Ash
Joshua Samuels
Alan Titus
Vincent Santucci
Josh Bonde
Michelle Pinsdorf
Glenn W. Storrs
Rebecca Hunt-Foster
Arthur J. Boucot
Robert B. Blodgett
Greg McDonald
Eric Scott
Sally Shelton
Hans Deitre-Sues
Jim Kirkland
Alton Dooley
Karen Chin
Erica Clites
Katie Loughney
Richard Kissel
Andrew Heckert
John Repetski
Christy Visaggi
John Hoganson
Scott Foss
Bruce Schumacher
Scott Sampson
Greg Liggett
Jere Lipps
Matthew Miller
David Brezinski
James Hagadorn
Kari Prassack
Tony Fiorillo
Mike Fracasso

 

Last updated: June 12, 2013