Saturday, October 29, 2011


CELEBRATING ICHNOLOGY IN ART. Paleontologist Barbie poses with Charles Darwin in front of The Holy Trinity of Ichnology, a collaborative painting by Hallelujah Truth and Chiboogamoo in the Selections art exhibit at Fernbank Museum of Natural History. Both Darwin and Barbie agreed that this painting was a great way to introduce how trace fossils are made, using everyone’s favorite fossils—trilobites—as an example of a tracemaker. Darwin said, “I cannot doubt that all the trilobites must have descended from some on crustacean which must have lived long before the Cambrian.” Paleontologist Barbie says, “I love trilobites – they’re the best arthropods ever!” (Photo by Hallelujah Truth and Tony Martin, captions by Tony Martin)

SMART WOMEN ROCK! Hallelujah for Paleontologist Barbie! On October 14, 2011, Paleontologist Barbie attended the “Selections” art opening at Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, in which my Chiboogamoo and I have a total of seven pieces of artwork exhibited! Paleontologist Barbie was kind enough to speak to me about her ideas on EVOLUTION, DARWIN, and our SCIENCE-RELATED ART (To see the two previous interviews with Paleontologist Barbie click here and here).

HALLELUJAH: Why are we still talking about Charles Darwin, whose 200th birthday was celebrated in 2009, and his book, On the Origin of Species, which was published more than 150 years ago?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: That’s a good question. Darwin has such a scientific legacy. I think more people are realizing now that he was a lot of things. He was a geologist, so he studied the earth. He was a zoologist, and he studied animals. He was interested in the evolution of humans so that must make him an anthropologist, but he was also interested in plants so that makes him a botanist. People today are really surprised when they meet someone who can do so many things, but Darwin was doing this in the 19th century. He totally rocked.

HALLELUJAH: Can you explain in a nutshell what is meant by the theory of evolution, since Darwin is credited with creating it?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE:  I always learned the meaning of “evolution” at its simplest: change over time. It doesn’t mean things get better over time, they just get different.
ENTRANCE TO THE DARWIN EXHIBIT.  Celebrating 200 years of Charles Darwin and 150 years of his book, “On the Origin of Species,” The American Museum of Natural History’s traveling exhibit is now at Fernbank Museum of Natural History until January 2012. (Photo and caption by Tony Martin)

HALLELUJAH: How did Darwin develop his concept of evolution?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: He did something that I love doing too—going out in the field and observing!


PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: The voyage of the HMS Beagle was such an awesome adventure for Darwin, and the whole time he was out there he was observing everything around him, the people, the rocks, the plants, animals. He was taking it all in.

But then he asked himself the following questions.  Why were geologic strata arranged the way they were? Why were fossils in certain places? Why were animals similar to each other but also different?  Why were plants different in different parts of the world? All of those “why’s” led to his theory of evolution.

HALLELUJAH: So because Darwin asked these questions, he came up with the theory of evolution? This idea or theory wasn’t around before then?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE:  A few people had developed some thoughts about what we now call evolution, but I don’t think any scientist had seen as much of the world as Darwin. It was his travels along with his questions that allowed him to put it together like he did.

HALLELUJAH: Was it easy for Darwin to publish his work on evolution? What struggles did he have?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Well, I think like me, he was a perfectionist. Everything had to be just right. So he worked and worked and worked on his theory but didn’t really put it all together so other people could read about it until another scientist came along—Alfred Wallace. Wallace had also done a lot of field work and had come up with a lot of the same ideas as Darwin.  This scared Darwin into finishing his book, On The Origin of Species, which was published in 1859.


HALLELUJAH: Did Alfred Wallace and Darwin publish any of their ideas about evolution together?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Yes, he and Darwin co-authored a paper that was publically presented, but Darwin was first to publish a book on evolution.

HALLELUJAH: As a paleontologist, why are you interested in evolution?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Well, as Theodosius Dobzhansky once said “Nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Every time I’m in the field looking at fossils or looking at modern animals, I always ask myself how does evolution explain this. You just can’t do paleontology without considering the theory of evolution.

HALLELUJAH: Can you give me example?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Well the last time you interviewed me (See the interview), it was about reptile burrows, and I mentioned then that reptiles had been burrowing for 250 million years. So the animals that are around today evolved to do behaviors that animals did back in the geological past.

HALLELUJAH: Are there two sides to this theory of evolution?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: There is only one side to the theory of evolution.

HALLELUJAH: Why does the media make the public think there are two sides?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I don’t know. I think the media wants there to be controversy around evolution to make it a spectacle like the TV show, “Dancing with the Stars.” I think the imagined controversy is silly. Evolution has been around as a theory longer than the people who are putting it down.

HALLELUJAH: What exactly is a theory?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: A theory is an explanation of what we see in the natural world. This explanation has been tested over a long time, and it works really well.

HALLELUJAH: Can you explain how paleontologists use this theory of evolution to conduct research?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Sure. Let’s say I want to go find fossils. I don’t just randomly walk out the door and point and find fossils (Paleontologist Barbie starts to giggle at this preposterous idea, then stops herself to continue explaining.). Instead, I look at a geologic map and the ages of the rocks there and know that those rocks might have fossils of certain types of plants and animals that lived at that time. How do I know that? Because of evolution!

HALLELUJAH: Was Darwin a Christian? Are you a Christian? Can evolution fit into a person’s religious beliefs?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: From what I remember in history class, Darwin was Christian. I don’t know if I want to talk about religion. People always get upset when you talk about religion. I would rather talk about science.

HALLELUJAH: Can you address religion and evolution in some way other than dismissing it?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Okay…(Paleontologist Barbie sighs and looks heavenward)…even though I know people will get upset no matter what I say.  I see beauty and inspiration in evolution. I see new ways to look at what surrounds me, and I am filled with a sense of wonder by the world. Is that spiritual? I think so.

HALLELUJAH: In addition to seeing the Darwin exhibit visiting Fernbank from the American Museum of Natural History, you also came to view the artwork that my Chiboogamoo and I have in the exhibit, “Selections,” which is evolution-themed. I would love for you to talk to me about our work and what you understand about it.
SELECTIONS, AN ART EXHIBIT. Charles Darwin and Paleontologist Barbie (with a little help from their friends) check out Hallelujah Truth’s painting, Mother Earth, Mother Dinosaur, now showing at Fernbank Museum of Natural History in conjunction with the traveling Darwin exhibit. Paleontologist Barbie asks rhetorically, “How did we get burrowing dinosaurs?” She laughs as she explains, “It’s all about adaptations and natural selection.” Darwin nods in agreement, pleased that his scientific legacy has been passed down to so many generations. (Photo and caption by Tony Martin)

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I’d like to start with your piece, “Mother Earth, Mother Dinosaur” since it opens the entire “Selections” exhibit.

HALLELUJAH: Go for it!

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: As you know, I’ve been studying reptile burrows on the Georgia coast. And seeing this beautiful painting showing dinosaurs in a burrow from almost 100 million years ago, made me feel simultaneously sad for the dinosaurs because they died in the burrow but happy about how this artwork relates to burrowing reptiles today.

HALLELUJAH: Can you elaborate a bit more about the connection to the research you are doing with reptile burrows on the Georgia coast?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Your dinosaur burrow has little burrows branching off of it. These branches were made by smaller animals that lived in the burrow with the dinosaurs. Modern reptile burrows have similar kinds of co-habitation structures. That’s evolution for you. Animals find a way to adapt and then keep repeating that behavior if it works.

HALLELUJAH: How about the collaborative pieces that Chiboogamoo and I did together? Can you tell me what are the take-aways for you?

THE HOLY TRINITY OF ICHNOLOGY. Paleontologist Barbie is thrilled to see such a whimsical summary of a paleontological principle in this artwork, The Holy Trinity of Ichnology, a collaborative artwork done by Hallelujah Truth (aka Ruth Schowalter) and Chiboogamoo (aka Tony Martin). “A substrate preserves a trace fossil, the anatomy of the tracemaker made a trace, and it all happened because of the animal’s behavior. I like it!”, she says with animated glee. “And they used a trilobite to show it, too. No I don’t just like it--I LOVE it!” (Photo by Hallelujah Truth and Tony Martin, captions by Tony Martin)

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: My favorite one is the “Holy Trinity of Ichnology.”


PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I just love that this piece of art both educates and entertains!

HALLELUJAH: Can you say a few words about my Chiboogamoo’s coining of the phrase “The Holy Trinity of Ichnology”? I believe you were there when he was crafting this way of teaching future ichnologists.

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE:  I really like that phrase because many people even if they are not Catholic have heard the phrase “The Holy Trinity” and can recite what it is: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Here Chiboogamoo substituted the scientific terms: “Substrate, Anatomy, and Behavior.” That trinity makes total sense when any of us ichnologists explain a trace. And it’s fun! Amen!
SIDE PANELS OF THE HOLY TRINITY OF ICHNOLOGY. “Can I hear an AMEN?” says Paleontologist Barbie, as she celebrates the sentiments that accompany The Holy Trinity of Ichnology (Substrate, Anatomy, and Behavior). (Photo by Hallelujah Truth and Tony Martin, captions by Tony Martin)

HALLELUJAH: How about “Breathing without Air,” what do you think of this collaboration?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I love how it connects to a trace fossil made by a fish that was already known during the time of Darwin. It also has really pretty colors that make me happy thinking about a fish 50 million years ago swimming and making those traces with its fins.
UNDICHNA, AN EOCENE FOSSIL FISH TRACE. This artwork, titled Breathing without Air and done as a collaborative piece by Hallelujah Truth and Chiboogamoo, was probably Paleontologist Barbie’s favorite artwork. Why? “Because it involves math—my best and most favorite subject! Well, other than paleontology, of course,” she admits. The three sine waves in the middle of the artwork represent the marks made by the caudal and pelvic fins of a fish as it swam along a lake bottom during the Eocene Epoch (about 50 million years ago) in what is now Wyoming. “Well, obviously you would use a Fourier-transform analysis on those sine waves to figure out the size of the fish,” she says nonchalantly. She was also inspired by the sheer dynamism of the artwork by taking a swim herself. “Take that, Dana Torres!” she says cheerfully. (Photo by Hallelujah Truth and Tony Martin, captions by Tony Martin)

HALLELUJAH: My Chiboogamoo has some beautiful pencil drawings in this exhibit. I would love to hear what you have to say about each one!

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I really like that he related all three drawings to Darwin. For instance, in his artist’s notes about the parasitoid drawing, he even quotes Darwin. Darwin had trouble grasping how a wasp laying an egg on a caterpillar could have been designed by a creator, but instead was something that evolved. Plus, this parasitoid image had colors I’m crazy about—green and yellow.
PARASITOID BEHAVIOR TRACES. Paleontologist Barbie is excited to get her own personalized (but high-quality) reproduction of Chiboogamoo’s artwork, Parasitoid: In Rocks No One Can Hear You Scream. She says, “This is what Darwin was talking about, when he said – and I quote – ‘I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.’ But I also like the whole Alien vibe to it, too!” (Photo by Hallelujah Truth and Tony Martin, captions by Tony Martin)

HALLELUJAH: What about the image with the decapods? Whoops…uhm…that’s what Chiboogamoo calls them…what’s the common name?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Think of crabs, lobsters, shrimp and crayfish–they are all decapods. They have eight walking legs and two arms. Eight plus two equals ten—see I’m really good at math (She laughs away former ridicule she had experienced as being brainless because she’s beautiful.)!

HALLELUJAH: Okay, now we have established what a decapod is, what was that drawing all about?
CRUSTACEAN EVOLUTION BURROWS. “Wow, a drawing of a burrow system and burrowing crustaceans that’s also an evolutionary chart of burrowing crustaceans,” exclaims Paleontologist Barbie enthusiastically. “That is too cool!” This artwork, titled Descent with Modification and drawn by Chiboogamoo, refers to Darwin’s phrase describing evolution, and also plays with the idea that burrowing animals descend, but also underwent evolution (and still are evolving). (Photo by Hallelujah Truth and Tony Martin, captions by Tony Martin)

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: He showed the decapods all in burrows, which are traces! But what is really neat is that the burrows also show how they are all related in their evolution.

HALLELUJAH: How do you know that?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: When you look at the drawing, the lobster and crayfish are in burrows next to one another. Lobsters and crayfish are more related to one another than crabs, so the crab is in a burrow farther away. Then the shrimp are even farther away from the crayfish and lobster. This shows how each of them became separated over time but they all came from one ancestor, which Chiboogamoo shows as a single burrow towards the top of the drawing.

WORM ESTIVATION CHAMBER. Paleontologist Barbie is mesmerized by this depiction of an earthworm estivation chamber, titled On the Formation of Refuge from Drought, and drawn by Chiboogamoo. “Why, this refers to Darwin’s last book, On the Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits!” she states knowledgably.  She explains further that during droughts, earthworms build underground chambers to keep themselves moist as the surrounding soil dries out. “What would we do if earthworms had not evolved?” she asks meaningfully. (Photo by Hallelujah Truth and Tony Martin, captions by Tony Martin)
HALLELUJAH: You have left my favorite image of Chiboogamoo’s for last. I love the worm estivation chamber drawing. What do you think of that one?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE:  I love that one too! Darwin loved worms, and so do I! Worms mix up soils, make them more fertile, and have been on this earth for a long time.

HALLELUJAH: How about the collaboration we did, “Abstractions of a Rising Sea”? This painting was a challenge for me because of its size, but I loved Chiboogamoo’s rendering of a future sea-level change and how it will impact the plant and animal traces we will find in the future.
ABSTRACTIONS OF SEA-LEVEL RISE. Yet another collaboration by Hallelujah Truth and Chiboogamoo, this painting, Abstractions of a Rising Sea, combines two subjects that are controversial despite their factual certainty: evolution and global climate change. Paleontologist Barbie gets it right away: “I see! The traces are in geological order, with terrestrial-animal traces at the bottom of the painting, and the marine-animal traces at the top. So sea level rose, and animals better adapted to marine environments replaced the ones that lived in that area. Cool, but kind of sad,” she says. (Photo by Hallelujah Truth and Tony Martin, captions by Tony Martin)

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: That one is exceptionally exciting! I got so engaged because it is colorful and dynamic and filled with science. It also relates to Darwin because it shows how animals have to adapt when environments change. Adaptation is cool.

HALLELUJAH: Do you have any comments about the artwork exhibited by the six other artists?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I was really, really impressed by the variety of artwork that related to evolution in so many ways.

HALLELUJAH: Have you done any artwork related to evolution?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: Not yet. If I get my NSF grant, I would like to take a little time to develop some projects with interested community members and their interpretation of evolution as a science-outreach program.

HALLELUJAH: If you were to make art demonstrating your favorite aspects of evolution, what would you create?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I like working with my hands and getting messy, so I would probably work with clay because clay comes from the earth, and it is so easy to shape into what you imagine.

HALLELUJAH: How would you like to wrap-up this discussion about Darwin, evolution, and art?

PALEONTOLOGIST BARBIE: I just want every kid out there to know that evolution is the neatest theory ever, that Darwin rocked, and art is cool! And they should engage in learning about all three!

EDUCATING THE WORLD.  Paleontologist Barbie enthusiastically explains Darwin's theory of evolution to Yu Chieh, a former creative writing student of Hallelujah's from the Georgia Tech Language Institute. Yu Chieh, who is from Tawain, attended the "Selections" art opening on October 14, 2011. 

Chiboogamoo, Paleontologist Barbie, and Darwin!
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: A warm kiss and champagne toast to my charming, romantic, entertaining, and brilliant husband, Chiboogamoo, who makes my life magical. It is his voice that informs the Paleontologist Barbie interviews. As a paleontologist and professor, he champions women in science and prefers to spend time with them every where, including in the field doing research. We had good fun with each other as we did these paintings together for this exhibit (I plan on writing a future blog about our collaborative process.). 
Chiboogamoo with Wil Grewe-Mullins in his office in Fernbank Museum's basement.

Thanks to Chris Bean, vice president of education at Fernbank, for her constant support and friendship. She and her husband, Mark, made sure we had an "adult beverage" at the opening. We really appreciated Wil Grewe-Mullins, the curator of the "Selections" exhibit, for his patience and the gentleness he extended to us throughout the two year process of getting ready for this show. 

Cheers to CREATIVITY used jointly with science and art (See more on this topic on my Chiboogamoo's website! Cheers to my creative writing students who journeyed to a natural history museum on a Friday night, when there were so many other obligations competing for their time! 

If you liked this interview with Paleontologist Barbie, you might want to check out our other two interviews:


  1. Great Post! Who would have thought that PaleoBarbie was such an articulate doll?

  2. Au Contraire Miss Shipp, Paleontologist Barbie is stunningly never at a loss for words and is eloquently competent on topics of science and art! Everyone needs this woman in her/his life! Thanks for posting your comments!

  3. Nice blogging!!! I saw horse,mouse and bat are similar when they are embryo in Darwin's exhibition, but after they born, they are totally different. That shows every creature's origin is same.