January 23, 2001
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass.—Geologist Friedrich Pflüger will speak about “Incidents from Deep Time: Early Life and the Making of ‘Fossil Art’ ” at the Pratt Museum of Natural History at Amherst College on Friday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m., in connection with the show “Fossil Art.” His talk will be free and open to the public.

Friedrich Pflüger, now at Vassar College, is a sedimentologist who has studied at Tübingen University (Germany), the University of Reading (England) and Yale University. He researches the changes through time in the interaction of life with sediments. He has traveled to North Carolina, Maine, Newfoundland, Sweden, England, Poland, Argentina, Namibia, South Africa, Australia, Libya and India to study the record in sandstone. His research led to the reinterpretation of numerous sedimentary structures of both inorganic and organic origin. He also participated in the discovery of trace fossils in 1,150-million-year-old strata in central India—work that pushed back the line for complex multicellular life by almost 500 million years (Science 1998).

“Fossil Art” is the creation of Pflüger’s colleague in that study from Tübingen, paleobiologist Dolf Seilacher, now a professor at Yale University, who has been collecting around the world for almost 50 years. Under Seilacher’s direction, Pflüger and Hans Luginsland transformed sedimentary slabs into epoxy casts that mimic the rock so well that it appears the actual rock is being examined. The exhibit consists of 36 large and colorful casts of the tracks of some very early animals, and also some structures created by running water or by the drying of the earth where the animals lived. These fossils record what the animals did, not just what they were.

The goal of “Fossil Art,” Seilacher writes in the catalogue, is “to bridge the deeply rooted cultural divide between arts and sciences.” The exhibit asks viewers to consider the differences between life on earth before and after the “Cambrian explosion,” an extraordinary geological moment 545 million years ago when organisms with hard skeletons originated and life began to leave a mark on the fossil record. Seilacher also asks what it means to call an object a work of art. It is not easy to distinguish natural from created objects in the “Fossil Art” collection. Seilacher asks if our definition of art should not “be based on perception as well as fabrication?”

“Fossil Art” remains at the Pratt Museum of Natural History at Amherst College until Apri1 1. The Pratt Museum is open to the public at no charge, weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. “Fossil Art” is sponsored by Tübingen University in Germany, and distributed in North America by The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Alberta, Canada. The Pratt Museum has a Website at http://www.amherst.edu/~pratt/