Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
A flash storm during an acutely dry summer of paleontological fieldwork in the Badlands of North Dakota sparks this paper’s examination of the process through which prehistoric animals-in-mud turn into stone and then into either fossil specimens or new mud. This paper analyzes the unequal encounters among paleontologists (both professional and volunteer), prehistoric animals, sandstone, and other matter within the science of paleontology. It thus responds to the panel organizers’ call to examine how “soils, waters, microbes, flora, fauna and other entities contribute to a dynamic and power laden pluriverse in which life, and the conditions for life, are made, unmade, and remade.” As part of my larger ethnography of paleontology in the United States, this paper uncovers the power dynamics that shape how some remains of prehistoric life become stone and then modern still-life, while others do not. In doing so, this paper engages STS scholarship around questions of agency to push beyond the recent interest in interspecies ethnography and question the boundaries between life and other-than-life, between animate being and inanimate object, and between subject and object.