Paleontology may seem like a tame, safe science where only the studied objects are dead, but beware! Certain aspects of paleontology are JUST as dangerous as letting an inquisitive tortoise near your testicles, or getting your fingers between a frog and your iphone! Adrenaline addicts Amy and Meaghan are here to tell you the deadly truth.
|Raptors: Not the biggest threat.|
|Just don't put that thing in your mouth, Gould.|
As a side-note, Steven Jay Gould was diagnosed in July 1982 with peritoneal mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer affecting the lining of the abdomen and frequently found in people who have been exposed to asbestos or rock dust. After an experimental treatment of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery, Gould made a full recovery. No idea whether he was engaged in enough asbestos-laden fossil preparation for that to be the cause.
2) And Some Fossils are Radioactive!
Fossils are found in the ground. So is uranium. Sometimes they get together and have really poopy parties that people aren't really keen to be invited to.
Dinosaur bones from the famous Chinle and Morrison Formations in the western U.S. are radioactive because of the accumulated Amy, wanting to do a good deed, explained the uranium issue to the owner but for some reason he didn't buy her story about the radioactivity and asked her to leave! (To be fair, Amy does get some seriously intimidating crazy eyes when she's talking about fossils of any kind, and may not have appeared super reliable/sane.)
3) Some fossils are found on unstable surfaces!
Fossils are found in rocks (hopefully you knew that already). Rocks that produce fossils tend to be exposed. Exposed rocks experience more weathering, and are more prone to failure. So fossils are frequently found in outcrops that are subject to mass wasting events.
|Denali's landslide: the rocks protest the Government Shutdown|
4) Silicosis isn't silly.
Besides uranium and asbestos, plain-old boring sandstone can also be an unsuspecting killer. After a fossil comes out of the field it has to be prepared from the enclosing rock. Frequently fossils are found in sandstone, sometimes even super well cemented sandstone that requires power tools to get any matrix off the specimen. These tools produce lots of dust rich in silica. Seems innocent enough, but after a while can produce an effect known as stone lung. Nobody wants that. Though it would be awesome if gooey bits like lungs really could be turned to stone... that's not what stone lung aka silicosis actually is.
Symptoms of silicosis include shortness of breath, cough, fever and cyanosis (bluish skin, papa smurf style). Your lungs are literally being scarred by the tiny flakes of crystalline silica, causing inflammation and nodule lesions in the upper lobes of the lungs. Bummer dude. Always have proper ventilation, your lungs will thank you.
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Leiggi, Patrick, and Peter May, eds. Vertebrate paleontological techniques. Vol. 1. Cambridge University Press, 2005.