Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A tribute to Stan Wood

The blog is dedicated to palaeontologist Stan Wood who died on Sunday 9th September after battling with cancer. His funeral took place on the 18th September and was attended by several members of the TWEED group. Here I would like to talk about how he contributed to palaeontology and to the project.

Stan was a dedicated fossil collector who discovered countless animal and plant fossils from across Scotland during his 40 plus years of fossil collecting. He was largely self-taught and prepared his own specimens to the highest standards. He had a keen interest in fish and amphibians, although he also collected many magnificent plant and arthropod specimens (such as giant land scorpions). In 1988 he found what may be the world’s earliest reptile, which he called ‘Lizzie the Lizard’.

He was instrumental in collecting many of the specimens that started off the TWEED project, and his tireless work led to the discovery of many new localities. In fact he really did open up Romer’s Gap, finding fossils where others had failed in the past. One of the key specimens he discovered is a tetrapod he called ‘Ribbo’ (the reconstruction of which is shown below), which features in the following paper: Smithson, T.R., Wood, S.P., Marshall, J.E.A & Clack, J.A., 2012. Earliest Carboniferous tetrapod and arthropod faunas from Scotland populate Romer’s Gap. PNAS, 109, 4532-4537, which is available online: This specimen looks different to other species found before and may be a completely new taxon. Work is ongoing by the tetrapod specialists in the team to fully describe this new find.

Left: Stan carrying ‘Ribbo’ across a stream. Right: A reconstruction of ‘Ribbo’ by Mike Coates University of Chicago courtesy of Nick Fraser (National Museums Scotland).

Stan achieved respect and renown across the palaeontological community. The specimens he found (literally thousands of them) populate museums across the UK. Stan appeared in his own documentary on the BBC, and worked with Sir David Attenborough on several of his series. His work was published in Nature and Stan was awarded the Worth Prize by the Geological Society and the Marsh Award for Palaeontology to celebrate his achievements.
I never met Stan, but in hearing and reading about his achievements, it’s clear that he was an exceptional man. In a wider sense, the importance of his life’s work demonstrates how important fossil collectors and amateur fossil enthusiasts are to science, not just in finding the fossil material, but in bringing it to life for us all.

Until next time


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