02 June 2007
The Godfather of Oregon Paleontology
Our department had its annual end of the year picnic and awards ceremony yesterday and I was (somewhat unexpectedly) the recipient of the Thomas Condon Fellowship for the work I'll be doing in eastern Oregon the latter half of the summer. The money is nice, of course, but it's also an honor just to have my name associated with Thomas Condon. He's a figure who hasn't ever gotten much press outside of Oregon, but he was an excellent vertebrate paleontologist and a complex individual. He was born in Ireland in 1822, but spent most of his life in the US as a minister and scientist (he purchased an early copy of Darwin's On the Origin of Species and rumor has it that it was the only book other than the Bible that he always carried with him). Condon saw no conflict between faith and science, considering (correctly, in my opinion) that each represented its own distinct sphere. After moving to Oregon in 1852 as a missionary, he began to make a special study of the state's paleontology, eventually becoming the first professor of geology at the University of Oregon and a hugely important figure in this state's scientific history. He collaborated in his research with several of the biggest names in 19th Century paleontology (most notably March and Cope of "Bone Wars" fame). Condon's name is most often associated with the John Day region in central Oregon, where he collected huge numbers of fossils that still form the core of the university's collection. Appropriately enough, the fellowship I just received will go towards funding the preliminary work I'll be doing on my dissertation project in those very same John Day Fossil Beds. Besides just proving that there are very few degrees of separation between any two figures in paleontology, receiving this fellowship is certainly a bit of good news, and as clichéd as it may sound, I do look forward to following in Thomas Condon's footsteps.