The Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP) is the heir of a long tradition in fossil vertebrate research in Catalonia, which was established and later consolidated by the notorious paleontologist Miquel Crusafont-Pairó from Sabadell.
At the ICP we are convinced that Paleontology, as a discipline halfway between Biology and Geology, should make fundamental contributions not only to the history of life, but also to evolutionary theory. This is why the research performed at the ICP clearly follows a paleobiological approach. In other words, for usit is not enough knowing how past living beings were and what are their kinship relationships with extant ones. We also aim to know how they lived, how they moved, what they ate, how they developed and reproduced, how they interacted with one another, what environment they inhabited and, ultimately, how past interactions between organisms and environment have shaped the ecosystems that we know today. It is precisely the access to deep time (or geological time, the one which is measured in millions and millions of years), by means of the study of fossil remains, what provides Paleobiology with a unique perspective of utmost importance for understanding why and how living beings have evolved in relation to the environment than surrounds them through Earth’s history.
For our research team, it is important to perform all the various steps of paleontological research, beginning with fieldwork (excavations and samplings), continuing with the study and analysis of fossil remains, and ending with the publication and dissemination of the results. In these regards, the basic task of description and taxonomic identification of the remains is still an essential aspect of our work. However, more and more, the study and analysis of the fossils is carried out using more sophisticated and computer-assisted techniques. Most noteworthy among them are virtual paleontology and three-dimensional visualization techniques, such as X-ray computed tomography, which enables the non-invasive study of the internal anatomy preserved by fossil remains. Also particuarly remarkable are the analytical techniques allowing for quantitative comparisons and analyses, such as 3D geometric morphometrics, phylogenetic reconstruction software, or numerical analyses of paleobiodiversity dynamics, just to mention a few examples.
The specialized technicians of the ICP, in turn, perform a fundamental step between fieldwork and research, consisting in the preparation and conservation of the fossil remains that constitute the paleontological collections of our Institute. These collections are continuously growing thanks to the excavations and samplings performed by our researchers. However, before being able to study a particular specimen, it is required that specialized technicians carry out a process of paleontological preparation (cleaning, consolidation and, if necessary, reintegration). The process of paleontological preparation not only enables the manipulation of fossils, but it also guarantees their proper conservation once deposited in the collections. This process if of utmost significnce, given that fossils are our main souce of data. In this regard, the ICP aims to become the reerence center in Catalonia with regard to the conservation of the paleontological heritage of vertebrates. This is why we offer our technical advice, in this and any other paleontological matter, to those institutions that request it.
But at the ICP we go one step further and, besides paleontological research, preparation and conservation, we further place particular importance to outreach activities to popularize paleontological heritage. In this regard, exhibiting the fossils it’s not enough, it is required to disseminate to the general public our research results, so as to make understandable the stories that hide in all these petrified bones. Transmitting paleontological knowledge to society, especially based on the finds and research results of our investigators, is for us a heartwarming moral obligation. In the words of the late North-American paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould: “Science is an integral part of culture. It’s not this foreign thing, done by an arcane priesthood. It’s one of the glories of the human intellectual tradition”. This is why at the ICP we have the vocation to make it available to those who are interested the conceptual and material tools that enable a cultural and ludic use of paleontological heritage. And we do so not only by means of the exhibition halls of the ICP Museum, located at the center of Sabadell, but also by collaborating in the estabishment and management of a network of local paleontological interpretation centers all over the country. Moreover, at these times of rampant antiscientific and creationist offensive, we feel a duty to help disseminating one of the most relevant scientific facts to comprehend the place of human being in Nature: organic evolution.
I do not want to finish without addressing those youngsters that, captivated by the secrets of evolution, perceive the grandeur in this view of life (the one alluded by Charles Darwin on the last sentence of the Origin of Species) and aim to devote yourselves to Paleontology. Becoming a researcher, from any discipline, is not an easy task... It requires a lot of study, tenacity, and sacrifice. And yet, if your fascination for fossils and your curiosity for evolution transcends any logical argument, if it is already too late for you, then I can do anything but to advise you to let yourselves be guided by your vocation. That you get trained in life and earth sciences, that you be ambitious and realistic at the same time, and that you try to put your talent at the service of paleontological research. You, as young people, are the future, not only of the ICP, but of the paleontological profession and of the whole scientific community. And only you, if you choose the correct questions, might hope to answer the multiple enigmas about the history of life that thus far remain unsettled.
With my warmest greetings,
David M. Alba