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2009 Skinner Award Recipient

Christopher A. Shaw

Christopher A. Shaw

Chris began his paleontological career on a fieldtrip to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA with John White, his neighbor and mentor, when he was 11 years old. He made his first fossil find, the tooth of a rabbit, which was a new species. Chris then began teaching himself osteology. At age 15 he volunteered for a 3-week fieldwork experience at Hagerman Horse Quarry, Idaho, under the tutelage of John White and met his second mentor, Dave Fortsch. The following summer Chris was part of another John White-led expedition to the southwest corner of Idaho, a Pliocene quarry, where he snap-trapped the first jumping mouse (Microdipodops) ever recorded in Idaho and met his third mentor, George Miller. On his 16th birthday Chris began volunteering at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles.

In 1969 George Miller received a NSF grant to open Pit 91 at Rancho La Brea and he hired Chris as a student worker, the summer before his senior year in high school. Chris continued to work weekends while completing his last year in high school, then returned to full-time employment for the summer of 1970. He began his formal paleontologic studies at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho, under John White and began a life-long collaboration with Greg McDonald. The day before classes formally started Chris joined John White, his son Jimmy, Greg, Judy Laing and others on a fieldtrip to American Falls Reservoir, when at the end of the day as the sun was setting, the group literally stumbled across the skull (with horns intact) of a Bison latifrons, and had to stay and completely excavate the specimen, practically by moonlight. That specimen is still housed in the collection at Idaho Museum of Natural History. Chris completed two years at ISU, before finances forced his return to southern California where he completed a BS in Zoology at California State University, Long Beach in 1975, and a MS in Biology also at CSULB in 1981 under George Callison. After completing his BS Chris was hired back at Rancho La Brea where he is still working today.

Chris took one of his most memorable fieldtrips in 1979 to El Golfo de Santa Clara, Sonora, Mexico, with Harley Garbani, the first recipient of the Morris F. Skinner Award, where he did the fieldwork for his master's thesis. Chris has continued his field research in the Badlands of El Golfo to this day, partnering with geologist Fred Croxen, and anatomist Dave Sussman, from Arizona Western College in 1994. Their collaborative research effort includes both American and Mexican scientists and many, many students and volunteers. To date, they have collected and identified over 6,000 specimens representing >80 taxa. The work is on-going.

This year culminates a 40-year relationship with Rancho La Brea. Chris began his career there as an excavator in Pit 91. From 1975 to 1977 he worked with Leonard Bessom to build/mount all of the skeletons that are still the heart of the museum. The George C. Page Museum opened in 1977 at which time Chris became a curatorial assistant under Bill Akersten. He became the Collection Manager in 1987, his current position with the museum. Chris worked under George Jefferson and now works under John Harris.

Chris is proud of the fact that the museum currently houses >3.5 million specimens and is currently involved in a project that will more than double the collection. He has worked with the Education Division teaching docents, community groups and museum benefactors. Chris has worked closely with the volunteers, the major workforce of the museum, encouraging paleontologists of the future. Over the years he has had the opportunity to work with many established paleontologists as well as students. Chris had the pleasure of sharing the "Treasures of the Tar Pits" in a traveling exhibit with many cities around the country as well. He has published and presented on his research at Rancho La Brea, in Mexico and Venezuela.

Chris is a dedicated scientist who has the ability to translate the science of paleontology into language that can be understood by anyone who is willing to listen. His passion for the field of paleontology places him among the best at what he does.

Photo courtesy of Christopher A. Shaw.