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2007 Skinner Award Recipient

David J. Ward

David J. Ward

Like the previous recipient of the Morris Skinner award, I was also born on October 10, 1948. Unlike my worthy predecessor, it was on the other side of the planet, in London, England. I was educated at Beverley Grammar School, in northern England, where the juxtaposition of the Yorkshire Mesozoic coast was a constant attraction.

Despite this, heavily influenced by my parents who thought geology fun but not a serious occupation for their son, I entered the Royal Veterinary College, London, where, some years later, I graduated as a veterinarian. My education in London was not completely wasted. Being a railway hub, it was possible to purchase a student day return ticket to virtually any fossil locality in England. I did not get much studying done during the weekends. At this time I fell under the benign influences of Colin Patterson and Brian Gardiner at what was then called "the British Museum (Natural History)", who encouraged my developing interest in fossil sharks' teeth. 

While other students were involving themselves in politics, drama, and the whole early 70s London scene, I shared my time with members of the Tertiary Research Group, an assorted bunch of people with a common interest in the Tertiary; then, an unfashionable time slice. Unlike the Mesozoic, where a hammer and set of chisels were your main collecting tools, in the English Tertiary you used a screen, spade and a lot of large cloth collecting bags. The appeal of bulk sampling was that you could find almost everything in a volume of sediment rather than just what was, by chance or good fortune, exposed on the surface. Thus began two further interests—stratigraphy and microvertebrate extraction.

At University I met my wife, Alison, who was surprisingly tolerant of sacks of clay and collecting gear in our small apartment.  We now have a larger house, more sediment and only slightly less tolerance.

As a young small-animal veterinarian, spare time was thin on the ground, but I made full use of it exploring the classic Tertiary shark localities in Europe and North America. As my interest and level of skill increased, I was privileged to assist at a number of excavations, most notably Kenneth Kermack's Mesozoic mammal sites in Oxfordshire and Richard Estes' collecting on the Isle of Wight. The pay dirt from both these excavations, weighing tens of tonnes, was processed in an automated screen washing machine, plumbed into our garage. This device, which freed up our bath tub, dramatically reduced specimen damage and back pain from hand sieving, but generated such enormous volumes of concentrate that it could take decades to sort.

I suppose a major turning point in my life, other than a politically correct mention of my marriage and the births of our children, occurred in the late 1980s when I was invited, with my wife, to join the Natural History Museum, London, trans-Sahara expedition to the Niger Republic. This trip led to several more, and a decision that life was too short to spend it doing anything other than vertebrate palaeontology.  I leased my portion of our veterinary practice and started a new life.  Actually, it was exactly the same as the old life, except I did not have the inconvenience of going to work every morning.

Photo courtesy of David J. Ward.