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review 2018-11-23 16:21
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte


Ah, the blast that ended the dinosaurs!  So much controversy!


And to think it all dates back to the days when religion dominated science.  When extinctions were explained by catastrophes ordered by God.  Need to get rid of Pleistocene animals? Invoke a flood.  Not just Noah's flood, either, the various churches decided there were plenty of catastrophes to go around.  Catastrophism its known as.


Things started to change when Charles Lyell published his Principles of Geology.  His theory was that you could observe geological processes at work in the world and make conclusions based on that.  Erosion, sedimentation, etc. are slow, gradual processes.  Lyell's book was reading material that Charles Darwin took with him on his Beagle voyage and the whole slow-and-steady change message really influenced his thought on evolution.  It's known as Uniformitarianism.


But here's the thing--the geological community got hung up on this.  It became verboten to attribute change to catastrophes.  That was considered a reversion to the past, to the Church.  Hence all the denial that a comet or asteroid impact could possibly be the reason for the Cretaceous extinction event.


At University of Calgary, we have a professor, Dr. Alan Hildebrand, who studies meteorites and impact sites.  He has been a major contributor to the study of the Chicxulub Crater on the Yucatan Peninsula, the impact that is thought to have ended the Cretaceous period. 


Just like Brusatte, I got my moment with the K/T boundary while in Cuba.  Our tour guide took us to a place where that fateful layer was exposed.  I got to put my hands on it, iridium, shocked quartz, and tektites included!  After a bit of searching, I found my photo of it.  Guys, its a seriously boring photo, but here it is:



Wish I had posed by it now, but what can you do?


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text 2018-11-22 15:15
Reading progress update: I've read 309 out of 416 pages.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte

Okay, feathered dinosaurs, y'all.  I remember when these were being found and debated and I have been to a LOT of lectures about those early feathered finds.


And I've heard Phil Currie tell the story, so I have it from the horse's mouth.  What Brusatte says about local Chinese farmers is absolutely true--they are educated individuals who have returned to the farms in Liaoning Province and they supplement their income by prospecting for fossils.


What Brusatte neglects to mention is that the Jehol Group (the geological formation in Liaoning) is a Laggerstatten, a sedimentary formation which preserves extraordinary fossils, often including soft tissues.  These fossils can be found by splitting sedimentary layers and you will often find a fossil by splitting it, leaving part on the top layer, part on the bottom layer, part and counterpart.


A very savvy farmer found Sinosauropteryx and he sold it's part and counterpart to two separate museums.  Double the income.  Yay farmer!  However, the heads of the two museums loathed one another.  Neither would give up their portion of the significant fossil and neither would allow their portion to travel to where the other piece was.



Enter Dr. Currie, who was a neutral person and a diplomat, to visit both museums, examine both part and counterpart, confirm that they were parts of the same fossil and examine those fuzzy bits that you see coming down the spine.


Oh the huffing and the puffing of experts, many of whom had never seen the fossil, about whether that fluff was feathers or not.  Much the same as when Archaeopteryx was found and the fuss over whether its feathers were real or not (and those were obviously flight feathers, unlike the fuzz on Sinosauropteryx.)


In 1999, feathered fossils came to Alberta, specifically to Drumheller's Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, where Dr. Currie was the head of  Dinosaur fossils at the time.  I made a pilgrimage and I hauled out my exhibition catalogue the other night to reminisce a bit:



(Sorry, nothing that I've tried can make this image display in the right direction.)  I believe that the cover depicts Caudipteryx, not mentioned by Brusatte, but a fossil from Liaoning which featured obvious feathers, including those wonderful tail feathers.



I'm thrilled that it seems that the vast majority of paleontologists now agree that dinosaurs (at least the theropods) had feathers and that birds are indeed dinosaurs.  This combines two of my own obsessions:  Dinosaurs and bird watching.



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text 2018-11-20 15:56
Reading progress update: I've read 269 out of 416 pages.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte


On page 242, the author briefly mentions a Centrosaurus bone-bed in Alberta.  I've been there multiple times and it is a great place to visit.


It is in Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located close to the town of Brooks, Alberta.  It's a popular camping site, although because of the paleontological value of the landscape, campers are somewhat restricted in where they can go.


The site also holds the cabin of John Ware, the best known Black cowboy & rancher in Alberta's history. 



It's also a fabulous birding location.  The look-out at the park entrance is one of the best places that I know locally to see Lark Sparrow.



There is a field station of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and there used to be guided tours of some of the dig sites.  The last one I went on was over 20 years ago, so I'm not sure if they still run those, but I wouldn't be surprised if they do.  The tours were ultra-popular.


There is an exposed portion of the bone-bed along a public hiking/driving path--the bones are coated in preservative and have a shelter over them to protect them from the worst of the Albertan weather.


All in all, it is a wonderful location to visit.  I haven't been out there for a year or two and this is making me want to go back.  I must plan a trip for next spring.





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text 2018-11-19 16:03
Reading progress update: I've read 229 out of 416 pages.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte


So, I used to volunteer as a docent (education volunteer) at the Calgary Zoo.  The zoo has a Prehistoric Park, containing a number of life-size dinosaur models and a sculptured back-drop with plants as appropriate to the time period as possible.  While I was a volunteer, the dinosaur section was one of my favourites and I spent a lot of time keeping up with the latest research.  Since I stopped being a volunteer there, I have let my research slip.


As a result, I was really interested in the research on T. rex ancestors.  It's fascinating to me that they were there, just small and not very noticeable, right from the break-up of Pangaea.  I can see where I'm going to be reading a few academic papers to get myself caught up to speed.


OK, now my complaint:  how can you write a whole section on Tyrannosaurs and only mention Phil Currie once?  The man is a theropod expert, especially Tyrannosauridae.  Don't take my (admittedly biased) word for it.  Talk to Wikipedia:




Having bitched about that, now I can at least say that Brusatte & I agree that Phil is one of the nicest human beings on the planet (p. 215).


I remember when the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology was digging at Dry Island Buffalo Jump (one of the digs mentioned on page 215).  Dry Island is just north of my home town and my family often used to picnic there, after church on Sundays.  I even remember seeing the dig site, covered with tarps.


Phil Currie was trying to retrace Barnum Brown's footsteps and find his Albertosaur quarry.  Phil took photos from BB's expedition and starting rafting down the Red Deer River, comparing the photos to the environment all the way along.  They would frequently stop and scramble up to look-out spots, trying to match skylines & objects.  In this painstaking way, he rediscovered the Albertosaur dig site and was able to excavate lots of Albertosaur remains.


I get that Brusatte is the next generation of researchers, but I resent that he gives such short shrift to Bob Bakker, Jack Horner, and Phil Currie.  It's their research and hard work that has given him the platform that he's using to base his own research on.


Okay, rant over.

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text 2018-11-17 21:32
Reading progress update: I've read 162 out of 416 pages.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte


There's some serious Paul Serreno worship going on here!  Not that there's anything wrong with that, exactly.....


I know I have biases toward the paleontologists in my province too, especially Phil Currie, who is possibly the nicest scientist that I have ever met.  When I was in Cuba, our bird tour leader was a university professor who was a geologist.  When he found out that I was a dyed-in-the-wool dinosaur fan, he took us to a place where we could see & touch the K/T boundary.  I was thrilled, although I'm not sure that the other members of the tour really understood its significance.  This Cuban prof was more of the "birds aren't dinosaurs" persuasion and we had some intense discussions of the issue.  Until I finally just said, "Look, Phil Currie works in my area and he is my hero.  So as far as I am concerned, birds are dinosaurs."  We agreed to disagree.  But I will always remember laying my hand on that iridium layer, that divides the Cretaceous from the Tertiary.


Dinosaurs are wondrous creatures!

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