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FAMOUS PALEONTOLOGISTS FROM NORTH AMERICA

Who was Elmer Riggs?

In 1900, the first Brachiosaurus, or arm reptile, was discovered in the area of Grand Junction, Colorado. The dinosaur got its name from having its front legs longer than its hind legs, and was regarded as the largest known dinosaur at that time. The Brachiosaurus was discovered by Elmer Riggs (1869-1963), assistant curator of paleontology at the Field Columbian Museum (now the Field Museum of Natural History) in Chicago, and H.W. Menke. The area where the bones were discovered and quarried is now known as Riggs Hill. Riggs broke with the conventional thought of his day, suggesting that the sauropod was not amphibious (living on land and in water), but rather a land-dwelling animal with habits similar to those of the modern elephant.

What discovery by John Ostrom led to new theories about dinosaur behavior and physiology?

The discovery and description of Deinonychus, terrible claw, by John Ostrom (1928-2005) of the Yale Peabody Museum turned out to be the catalyst that changed our perceptions about dinosaurs. In 1964, Deinonychus bones were excavated from the Cloverly formation rocks of the Early Cretaceous period in Montana; Ostrom presented his findings in 1969. The information from these fossils, and other fossil finds related to Deinonychus, increased our knowledge of dromaeosaurids, which may have been the most aggressive and maybe the most intelligent of the theropods.

Based on fossil evidence found during the excavation, Ostrom concluded that these animals may have hunted in packs, indicating a social structure. Also, the animals skeletons were light and slender, with a stiffened tail for balance, long clawed arms for grasping, sharp backward-curving teeth for tearing flesh, and a huge sickle-shaped claw on the second toe of the foot for slashing. The animal was built for speed and agility, quite unlike the perception of dinosaurs up until that time. From these findings, Ostrom theorized that Deinonychus may have been warm-blooded. This radical notion invited new thinking about dinosaur physiology and led to the modern ideas of dinosaurs as active, social animals.

But Ostroms ideas did not stop there; he was also the paleontologist who almost single-handedly convinced the scientific community that birds are descended from dinosaurs. In addition, his discoveries provided the underpinning for the Jurassic Park books and movies, as well as tons of books about dinosaur evolution.

Who is John R. Horner?

In 1978, American paleontologists John R. Horner (1946-) and Bob Makela discovered the fossilized remains of what would subsequently be called Maiasaura, or good mother lizard, in Montana. This was the first known nest of baby dinosaurs, and indicated the young had been cared for by adult dinosaurs. Starting in 1979, and working into the 1980s, Horner uncovered evidence of herding behavior in the dinosaurs, as well as nesting grounds, providing new insights into the social behavior of these dinosaurs. The herd was estimated to have been almost 10,000 dinosaurs strong.

Currently, John R. Horner is the regents professor and curator of paleontology for the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. He is one of the most famous North American paleontologists, known for his dinosaur fossil discoveries and for being the consultant for Hollywoods Jurassic Park films.

Who is Robert Bakker?

Robert Bakker (1945-) is an American paleontologist; he was previously at the Morrison Natural History Museum in Morrison, Colorado, but more recently lectures and hunts for dinosaur fossils at Como Bluff, Wyoming. Like his mentor John Ostrom, Bakker has helped reshape modern theories about dinosaurs, particularly arguing in favor of the theory that some dinosaurs were warm-blooded (endothermic); he has expanded and/or changed many conventional ideas about dinosaur behavior; and he was also one of the first paleontologists to suggest that many dinosaurs had feathers. He is the author of many books, including Dinosaur Heresies, Raptor Red, Maximum Triceratops, and Raptor Pack.

Who is Jim Kirkland?

James Kirkland (1954-) is an American paleontologist and geologist who has worked extensively with dinosaur fossils from the southwestern United States. He is responsible for discovering new and important genera; for example, in 1991, Kirkland found the first skeleton of Utahraptor, a large dromaeosaurid with long foot claws, in the Gaston Quarry, Utah. He currently is an adjunct professor of geology at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado. He is also a research associate at the Denver Museum of Natural History in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, as well as official Utah State Paleontologist for the Utah Geological Survey.

Who is Paul C. Sereno?

Paul C. Sereno (1958-) is an American paleontologist currently at the University of Chicago. He has worked at many dinosaur dig sites, including those in South America, Asia, and Africa. Among his dinosaur accomplishments, he: discovered the first complete skull of Herrerasaurus; was responsible for excavating a giant Carcharodontosaurus in 1996; named the oldest-known dinosaur, the Eoraptor (with others) in 1993; and, in 1991, found the second oldest fossil birds, Sinornis (Chinese bird). He also named many new dinosaur fossils and rearranged the dinosaur family tree, reorganizing the ornithischians and naming the clade Cerapoda (formed from the ornithopods and marginocephalians).

 
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