Apply for Paleonturology ’08–or else!
October 17, 2008
Every year the Fundación Conjunto Paleontológico de Teruel-Dinópolis in Teruel, Spain, gives out the International Award in Palaeontology Research, a.k.a. Paleonturology. ‘Paleonturology’ is a bit of a pun–it’s actually PaleonTurology; Turol is the old Roman name for the area, from which the Turia river, Turiasaurus, and the city and province of Teruel are all derived. (The photo above shows the sun setting over the hills near the Turiasaurus quarry.)
So what’s the deal with the award? You can find full rules and guidelines here, but here’s the short version: any paleontology paper published in the calendar year 2007 is eligible, just send in an application form (1 page) and a few copies of your paper or a PDF by November 15. If you win, you get a prize of 4500 Euros, which in the current economy is roughly a million dollars. You will also be invited to travel to Teruel next December to serve on the jury for Paleonturology 09, and attend a press conference where the book version of your winning paper will be unveiled and the next year’s winner will be announced. Depending on the state of the Paleonturology war chest, your trip may be partly or wholly paid for; all I paid for last year were souvenirs.
Those are merely the on-paper blandishments. If you take the trip to Spain, you’ll also get to:
. . . knock around some gorgeous medieval cities, like the 13th century fortress valley of Albarracin;
. . . hang out with the awesome folks at Dinópolis and other museums–here I am with Francisco “Paco” Gasco of Dinópolis (left) and Senor Maria, who runs a little museum in the village of Galve;
. . . visit incredible fossil quarries and tracksites (yes, that is an IKEA paper tape I have stretched out by the sauropod tracks–I keep one folded up in my wallet, where it takes up less space than a credit card, so I am never without an English/metric yard/meter tape, which is very handy when you work on sauropods),
. . . enjoy amazing food and drink, and be put up at a very nice hotel, probably with a view of a thousand-year-old church/fortress/tower out your window (there are four such towers in Teruel, so your odds are good). I got to go last December, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
In the five years that the award has been given, winners have included grad students, young professionals, mid-career paleontologists, and near-retirees, from Spain, the US, Scotland, and Hungary, writing solo or with coauthors, on Pliocene hominins, clam shell construction, dinosaur gastralia, sauropod pneumaticity, and trilobite eyes. The point is that anyone, of any age, anywhere, writing about any paleontological subject has a chance to win.
To be as direct as possible: if you published a paper in paleontology in 2007 and don’t apply, you’re missing out on the chance of a lifetime.
That said, the recent winners have all had a few things in common. The papers have been about good-sized clades rather than single taxa, they’ve been well-illustrated and with a high general-interest factor (if I do say so myself), they’ve tended to address paleobiological questions, and none of them has been a shorty from one of the ‘high-impact’ journals (although such papers have been submitted). Still, even if your only paper from 2007 is a Nature note on a new Cambrian worm or the foot morphology of Pleistocene dragonflies, you’d be nuts not to submit, for two reasons: this year’s jury may be looking for something different, and yours might be the best paper they get.
Suppose your 2007 paper is on trilobite eyes or sauropod pneumaticity. Submit anyway. I was on the jury for Paleonturology 07, coming off two years of dinosaur papers, and a couple of dinosaur papers made it almost to the final cut. We all agreed that it didn’t matter what the paper was about, the qualities we were looking for were quality of research, broad interest, readability, and good (clear, helpful, aesthetically pleasing) illustrations. The trilobite eye paper won because it excelled in all of those areas, not because it was about trilobites rather than dinosaurs.
Did I mention that the province of Teruel is practically overrun with awesome sauropods? Aragosaurus (1987), Galveosaurus (2005), Turiasaurus (2006), and the newly-described Tastavinsaurus (2008) are just the tip of the iceberg. You will be hearing a LOT more about the Mesozoic biota of Teruel in the next few years. Here’s a dorsal vertebra of Tastavinsaurus, from Canudo et al. (2008:fig. 3).
I almost didn’t apply for Paleonturology 06. I was busy dissertating and it seemed like a long shot. But the application is one page long and I figured it would be stupid not to apply, so on the last possible day I printed it out, made copies of my paper, and dumped it all in the mail (that was back in the dark ages when you had to send paper copies; now you can apply over e-mail). When I think about how great my experience was, and how close I came to not applying, it makes me a little sick. Don’t be a doofus.
- Canudo, J. I., Royo-Torres, R., and Cuenca-Bescós, G. 2008. A new sauropod: Tastavinsaurus sanzi gen. et sp. nov. from the Early Cretaceous (Aptian) of Spain. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 28(3):712-731.