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Who was first to reconstruct the way dinosaurs behaved?

Louis Dollo (1857-1931), a French mining engineer, was the first to interpret the remains of dinosaurs with an eye toward reconstructing their lifestyles.

In 1878, the remains of approximately 40 Iguanodon were discovered in the Fosse Sainte-Barbe coal mine near the town Bernissart in southwestern Belgium. Their excavation took three years. Dollo spent the rest of his life assembling, studying, and interpreting the fossil remains. In 1882, he started as an assistant naturalist at the Royal Natural History Museum in Brussels, Belgium; in 1904, he became director of the museum, based on the strength of his scientific discoveries associated with the Iguanodon. Not only did he assemble the bones for exhibit and write papers concerning his findings, but he also attempted to describe the behavior of these animals.

French scientist Georges Cuvier came up with the theory that species go extinct, which was counter to the commonly accepted idea that the species we see today have always been around (iStock).

Who first classified dinosaurs based on the structure of the pelvic area?

In 1887, English paleontologist Harry Seeley (1839-1909) realized there were two distinct groups of dinosaurs. He classified them as Ornithischia (bird-hipped) and Saurischia (lizard-hipped), basing this primarily on the bone structure of the pelvic area. This system of classification was widely adopted and is still in use today.

Why are the Solnhofen quarries of Germany so important to paleontology?

The Solnhofen quarries of Bavaria, Germany, are important not just because they are home to the oldest known bird fossils, the Archaeopteryx lithographica. This area is what paleontologists call a Lagerstatten (fossil lode or storehouse). Because of their unique prehistoric conditions, these sites have preserved numerous animals, giving us a virtual snap-shot of the fauna during this time. There are only approximately 100 fossil sites around the world designated as Lagerstatten, with each representing different time periods, and all rich in fossil varieties.

Famed paleontologist Richard Owen designed these dinosaur statues in 1852; they are still on display at London's Crystal Palace Park (Big Stock Photo).

The quarries were the site of a quiet, warm-water, anoxic (lacking oxygen) lagoon. It lay behind reefs on the northern shores of the Tethys Sea approximately 150 million years ago. The tropical climate at this time was perfect for the animals and plants living along its shores. And the ocean itself teemed with life beyond the stagnant lagoon. Storms would sweep in dead or dying animals from the ocean; dying land creatures either fell into the lagoon, or drifted into it from the shore. Their bodies fell to the bottom of the lagoon and were covered by soft lime mud; little oxygen was present to decompose the organisms. The ensuing fine limestone rock preserved, in exquisite detail, the remains of over 600 species, including the smallest dinosaur, Compsognathus, pterosaurs by the hundreds, numerous insects, and, of course, the remains of Archaeopteryx lithographica.

When was the most spectacular dinosaur fossil expedition mounted?

The most spectacular dinosaur fossil expedition ever mounted began in 1909 and lasted through 1912. The expedition took place in German East Africa (now Tanzania) around the village of Tendaguru.

In 1907, W.B. Sattler found gigantic fossil bones weathering out of the surface rock as he explored the area around Tendaguru for mineral resources. After Sattler reported his findings, a noted paleontologist, Professor Eberhard Fraas (1862-1915), visited the area and took collected samples back to Germany. There, Dr. W. Branca, the director of the Berlin Museum, realized the importance and scope of the findings and started raising funds for an expedition.

The expedition began in 1909; it was a search larger in scope than anything to date. In the first year, 170 native laborers were employed; in the second year, 400 were used. The third and fourth years saw 500 natives at work on the dig sites, which were located in an area extending almost two miles (three kilometers) between Tendaguru Village and Tendaguru Hill. The laborers were accompanied by their families; thus, the expedition had to accommodate upwards of 700 to 900 people. Additionally, after the fossils were mapped, measured, excavated, and encased in plaster, they had to be hand carried from Tendaguru, in the interior, to Lindi, on the coast a trek that took four days. There, the enormous number of bones, eventually totaling 250 tons (230 metric tons), were shipped to Germany for preparation, study, and reconstruction.

What dinosaur remains were excavated during the Tendaguru expedition?

The Tendaguru expedition was itself spectacular, and so were the dinosaur fossils discovered at the site. Among the findings were three types of theropods the small, agile Elaphrosaurus, and the larger Ceratosaurus and Allosaurus. Six herbivorous dinosaurs were also found: the tiny ornithopod Dryosaurus; Kentrosaurus, a stegosaur; and four sauropods, Dicraeosaurus, Barosaurus, Tornieria, and the largest one of the time, Brachiosaurus. The reconstructed skeleton of a Brachiosaurus in the Berlin Museum from this site is the largest complete dinosaur skeleton in the world.

In addition to these spectacular dinosaur finds, the expedition also uncovered remains of pterosaurs, fish, and a tiny mammal jaw bone. All of the animals were similar to those found earlier in the Morrison formation in the western United States, indicating that migration between North America and Africa was relatively easy during this time.

Where were the first Albertosaurus fossil remains found?

The first fossil remains of the Late Cretaceous dinosaur Albertosaurus were found in the Badlands of the Red Deer River Valley of Alberta, Canada. Geologist Joseph Burr Tyrrell found the fossil remains in the spring of 1884, as he led an expedition near present day Drumheller for the Geological Survey of Canada.

In the early 1900s, the discovery of these and other remains brought numerous paleontologists to the area, including Barnum Brown of the American Museum of Natural History, and Charles H. Sternberg and sons for the Canadian Geological Survey. The friendly rivalry between Brown and the Sternbergs was dubbed the Great Canadian Dinosaur Rush.

The first fossils of the Cretaceous dinosaur Albertosaurus were found in Alberta, Canada, which is how this predator got its name (Big Stock Photo).

Today, the Badlands of the Red Deer River Valley in Alberta, Canada, are recognized as one of the worlds leading fossil collecting areas, with some 25 species of dinosaurs so far uncovered. The significance of this area led to the establishment of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, established in June 1990, in Drumheller.

How did the Badlands of the Red Deer River Valley form?

The badlands of the Red Deer River Valley, in Alberta, Canada, were carved by meltwater torrents when the ice sheets retreated approximately 10,000 to 15,000 years ago. There is some evidence that flash floods, rather than rivers, were the agents that created the present Badlands topography. These landscapes include narrow, winding gullies and channels; heavy erosion; steep slopes; and little or no vegetation.

During the time of the dinosaurs, this area included numerous deltas and river flood plains that extended out into a shallow, inland sea. The Late Cretaceous deposits of sand and mud often included the bodies of dinosaurs. Over millions of years, as material was laid down layer upon layer, the deposits turned into rock, fossilizing the dinosaur bones.

The advance and retreat of four glacial ice sheets over millions of years along with other natural erosion processes by wind and water caused significant wearing away of the area. The material on top was removed, and the exposed Cretaceous period sedimentary rocks were carved into the Badlands of today. The Cretaceous layer is known as the Horseshoe Canyon formation and is continually eroding, exposing fresh dinosaur fossils.

 
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