January 9, 2001
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass.—Art and science meet in the exhibit of Fossil Art, which opens on Friday, Jan. 19 at the Pratt Museum of Natural History at Amherst College, where it will be on display until April 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 the creation of German paleobiologist Dolf Seilacher. 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.

Seilacher, who tries to infer the relationship between extinct organisms and their environment, has received the highest honor among geologists: the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Scientists. He discovered a trace fossil in India showing the tracks of a small worm-like creature that lived 1.1 billion years ago—the oldest traces of multi-cellular life ever found.

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 is sponsored by Tuebingen University in Germany, and distributed in North America by The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Alberta, Canada.