There are lots of blogs about dinosaurs, but not very many about fieldwork. Dinosaur Postcards is a blog about dinosaur fieldwork… and the scientific discoveries that follow.
|Out and about in the Naashoibito, New Mexico 2003|
Collecting dinosaur bones is the best adventure you can have. From the adrenaline rush of finding a dinosaur skeleton eroding out next to your boot, to the adrenaline rush of finding a rattlesnake hanging out next to your boot… there’s nothing that is comparable. Well, maybe; I figure that the only people who can claim they have a more exciting job are astronauts, but they get spun around in nauseating centrifuges and have to drink their own pee (okay, it’s filtered, but you know what I mean).
I grew up near Manchester, England, in a village nestled among the rolling hills of the Pennines. There were lots of sheep and cows, but not many dinosaurs, so I was very lucky that my parents would take us on holidays to the British coast where I could collect fossils, including occasional dinosaur bones from the Isle of Wight. What started as short summer adventures developed into a fascination with extinct animals, and eventually I went to study for a degree in geology at the University of Durham.
From August 1998 to 1999 (the year after my bachelors degree), I worked two jobs to save up and pay for my forthcoming master’s degree in paleobiology at the University of Bristol. When commuting to work on the train, I would read various paleontology texts and popular science books, of which I fondly recall “Dinosaurs of the flaming cliffs” by Dr. Michael Novacek of the American Museum of Natural History, New York. In the early 1990’s, Dr. Novacek had led a wave of expeditions to the Gobi Desert, Mongolia, and in this book he described their endeavors and the petrified bones that they had uncovered. I mostly skipped over the familiar discussion of the fossils, but I was captivated by retellings of his crew’s experiences in the field: not just the discovery of countless exquisite Velociraptor and Protoceratops, but also of what it was like to camp in the desert; the unfamiliar animals they encountered; the tales of treacherous weather and broken trucks. Every day seemed like an adventure: what a grand and exciting life! I scoured local stores for similar books; “Digging Dinosaurs” by Dr. Jack Horner told of collecting baby dinosaurs in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and another of Jack’s books, “The complete T. rex”, followed the excavation of “MOR555”: then the most complete Tyrannosaurus known to science.
Back on that train in 1999, Mongolia, Montana, and other far-flung locales seemed terribly exotic and far away – because they were – but these days I am fortunate enough to get to visit such places, collecting fossil skeletons, and figuring out the details of how dinosaurs lived.
Every summer for 20 years or so, I have been somewhere collecting dinosaurs; from the shores of the Isle of Wight in England, across the continental interior of North America, to the vast plains of Asia. Each place has its unique characters, inspiring fossils, and intriguing stories.
Right now I am working towards my doctoral degree under Dr.Jack Horner at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. This is probably the best place in the world for a dinosaur fieldwork enthusiast. Most of my fieldwork is spent in the wild west of eastern Montana, prospecting the Hell Creek Formation for Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus.
This is my main motivation for starting this blog: I want to share the adventure, excitement, and fun of being in the field, coupled with a passion for the science that follows.
Updates from Jack Horner paleontology lab, Museum of the Rockies
|The Horner Paleo Lab Facebook page|
We started the Horner Lab Facebook page to share news of exciting things that were going on in the museum, including any recently published research, photographs of new dinosaur fossils that are being prepared, or photos of nice fossils from our collections that have never made it to exhibit. Most of what is posted on Horner Lab will also be posted here on Dinosaur Postcards.
A venue for my own research
Variation in claw size and shape reflects different hunting and killing strategies in birds of prey (from Fowler et al. (2009). This figure won image of the week from the journal PLoS One.
I also wanted a place where I could share interesting tidbits or background about my research on dinosaur paleontology. I get to write press releases when the papers are published, but these necessarily take a rather rigid format and are subject to editing by someone else, so that I can’t include all the information I would like. One theme that I’m especially interested in pursuing is:
“Where do ideas come from?”
Ideas are at a premium in science, but where does that initial spark of an idea come from? How does it then develop and grow into a research project? I’ve published a few papers now, and I like to think that most of my research stems from original ideas (especially the currently unpublished stuff), so every now and then I’ll post a bit about my research.
Finally… why "dinosaur postcards"?
For the purposes of the blog, "postcard" is a metaphor for a message sent from an exotic place. I’ve been lucky enough to spend (cumulatively) many years of my life in the field, all across the world, so I’ll be drawing on interesting stories. Maybe if this blog takes off I’ll get some guests in to write about other places that they have been.
However, I do collect postcards of dinosaurs and other fossils, so every now and then I'll post a picture of an actual dinosaur postcard (especially if you send me one).
Here’s the first one: