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The Paleo Lounge

Somewhere in the gulf between paleontology and sanity.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Oh, dear Marsh pick,

SVP logo, feat. Marsh pick

How happily I smash rocks with thee.

Today, a member of the preplist asked for photos with scale for use in recreating that ubiquitous paleontology icon, the Marsh pick. In the VPL prep lab archives I’ve come across a letter from Wann Langston to someone at the AMNH (or maybe it was a response, anyway, correspondence of some sort from somebody to somebody) from the 60s or 70s discussing the multitude of pick heads boxed in the basement with a price of $7 plus postage for anyone wanting one. Damn that those days are behind us! As soon as I find that letter again I’ll post it here.

What is a Marsh pick, some might ask? Well, youngster, before the rise of the Estwing Rock Hammer , the Marsh pick was “the universal field tools of vertebrate paleontologists,” as described by Ned Colbert in “A Fossil Hunter’s Notebook”(1980, p. 131). His wife, artist Margaret Colbert, incorporated it into the design for the cover art of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology News Bulletin, and it was later adopted by the SVP as the organization’s official logo, which can now be found on all sorts of nifty SVP swag (proceeds of which go to support the Society.) I’ve compiled what information I have at hand here in this post, and would be highly interested in hearing from anyone who can add to the fact or lore associated with this instrument.

The first printed reference I have seen relating to our story comes thanks to blogger Michael Ryan, who contributed the following bit of paleo history to the internet in 2006 (there were blogs way back in 2006? Holy crow!) Beyond this, I do not know much about the genesis of the famous whacking tool.

Popular Science August, 1932, From Palaeoblog

I have been told that this is not the earliest example of such a tool, and that it was devised by O.C. Marsh himself, and it is certainly possible that Brown modified the design in such a way as to improve it. Additions like the U-shaped spring clip might be what led him to claim inventor status, and that Brown’s dinosaur pick only later became synonymous with Marsh’s. But, like I said, I don’t know. It is exceedingly difficult to tell from historical photos whether pictured picks are the ones we are discussing or standard large railroad picks. There is a photo in Dingus and Norell (2010, Fig. 23) of Brown in the Red Deer River in 1912 that looks Marsh picky. Chime in if you can prove the case one way or the other.

Tools for excavating include: shovels, large railroad picks, small “drift” picks, paleontological or “Marsh” picks (fig. 4c), which, by the way, are more expensive and scarcely better than a good, light “drift” pick (fig. 4a). A crowbar is sometimes handy.

Ouch. But something changed the minds of a generation of paleontologists in the 43 years between Camp’s thoughts and Colbert’s observation. Although, I don’t use one in the field very often either, my long-handled Estwing rock hammer has served me well for >10 years. [A brief aside: I can’t stand those Estwing Geo/Paleo Picks . I just find them to be sized all wrong. Too short to be useful as a two-handed earth mover, too long (only slightly, though, if you’re 6′ plus) to be used accurately as a one-handed rock hammer. Also, the weight is all wrong. It fills a middle niche that doesn’t really exist, in my opinion. To move serious rock, you need mass X acceleration, a strong point, and the leverage of a long handle for both a decent swing and prying power once the tool tip is embedded in your target. Target, I said, not the fossil. I suspect that if you think the Paleo Pick is for you, a few lessons on the proper mechanics of a good 3lb pickax might change your mind. Oh! And the padded handle! You cannot slide your hand along the length of haft as you swing, which results in even more and less efficient labor! And the stupid handle is round! You’ve got to squeeze it tighter to keep it from rotating, which leads to even more fatigue! Somebody’s gonna hurt themselves with one of these.] Ok, that wasn’t brief, and we haven’t even addressed the original request, pictures and measurements of the tool! From here on out, I’ll let the pictures do the talking, with details in the photo captions. Like I said, I want to hear more if you’ve got sources!

[You can click on the pictures here for full size images]

The Paleo Lounge Somewhere in the gulf between paleontology and sanity. Wednesday, July 13, 2011 Oh, dear Marsh pick, SVP logo, feat. Marsh pick How happily I smash rocks

Marsh pick

Friday, April 29, 2011
Posted: 9:50 p.m. Updated: 11:48 p.m.
By Reuben Frank and Gordie Jones
CSNPhilly.com

The Eagles drafted Utah State cornerback Curtis Marsh in the third round of the draft Friday evening, the second defensive back they selected on Day 2 of the draft.

Earlier Friday, they selected safety Jaiquawn Jarrett from Temple.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Marsh played running back his first two years at Utah State, before making the transition to defense. He was an All-Western Athletic Conference second-team pick in 2010, recording 45 tackles, two interceptions and 13 pass deflections. He also appeared in the Senior Bowl, and said he felt he was performing at a very high level by the end of his career.

I feel really comfortable at corner, he said via conference call from his home in Simi Valley, Calif., and Im just really anxious to learn NFL schemes, to learn Philadelphias scheme in depth and contribute defensively to the team.

Marsh, whose father, Curtis Sr., was a wide receiver for the Jaguars and Steelers (1995-97), changed positions two years ago because Utah State had a glut of running backs, and a shortage at the corner.

I saw an opportunity to help the team, the younger Marsh said, because I had played corner before in high school, and I knew that I was capable of playing at a high level. And I knew it was also my best shot for the NFL, with my skill set.

Eagles coach Andy Reid called Marsh a phenomenal athlete, and said he is very, very intelligent. And while Reid acknowledged that there are other cornerbacks in the draft with more experience, he believes Marsh will develop quickly.

We felt that this kids upside was good enough to be a starter, Reid said.

Marsh, for his part, is quite certain his father will able to help him with the transition to the NFL.

Hes my inspiration, he said. When I was younger, the only reason I wanted to play football was because I wanted to be just like him. If I ever need to ask him questions it is real convenient, especially him being a receiver and me being a corner. He can let me know a lot of what to expect in the next couple months.

This is only the fourth time in franchise history the Eagles have selected two defensive backs in the first three rounds of a draft. They last did it in 2002, when they picked three (Sheldon Brown, Lito Sheppard, Michael Lewis) and also in 1993 (Mike Reed, Derrick Frazier) and 1969 (Leroy Keyes and Bill Bradley)

The Eagles picked Marsh with the 90th pick overall. They traded their original third-round pick No. 85 overall to John Harbaugh and the Ravens for a sixth-round pick, No. 191 overall.

That leaves the Eagles with eight picks on Saturday, Day 3 of the draft No. 104 and 120 overall in the fourth round, No. 149 and 153 in the fifth round, No. 191 in the sixth round and No. 227, 237 and 240 in the seventh round.

As of now, the Eagles have 11 total picks in this draft second-most among all NFL teams.

This is the 12th consecutive year the Eagles have engineered at least one trade somewhere in the first three rounds.

Related: Feisty Watkins gives Eagles a ‘guard dog’ Eagles take Temple safety Jarrett in second round

Friday, April 29, 2011 Posted: 9:50 p.m. Updated: 11:48 p.m. By Reuben Frank and Gordie Jones CSNPhilly.com The Eagles drafted Utah State cornerback Curtis Marsh in the third round of the draft Friday evening, the second defensive back they selected on Day 2 of the draft. Earlier Friday, they selected safety Jaiquawn Jarrett from Temple.