Friday, October 31, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

We are SVP

If you were not at SVP this past month (and even if you were...), be sure to swing by the SVP website to see the "We Are SVP" video. The video tells the story of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology: who we are, what we do, and why our work is important. This was debuted at this years meeting and is narrated by Sam Waterston of Law-and-Order fame (I think it is so cool they got him to do it!). You can also watch it chapter by chapter if you do not have time for the entire 33.30 minuets.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Paleo Punk

Are you into Paleo? Also into Punk? Check out the band "The Iran-Contra Affair" over at

They have a song called Fossil. The lyrics to their song are taken from a Richard Dawkins' quote from "The Ancestor's Tale" and go like this:

Most fossils are, in any era, remnants of hard animals: vertebrate bones, carapace(s)

Hope you enjoy it. Pass the site on to others if you do. Support your local Indie group :)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

This makes me sad...

It is also one of the reasons I am hesitant to donate any money to any of the schools I have attended. I would rather fund my former departments vs. the school, who waste $ on this crap (sports that is). Sorry, just the way I feel.

The other night the school where I got my M.S. call me and actually have the gumption to ask me for $1000 donation! I just laugh at them and tell them that I don't think so. Then they ask for $500. I keep telling them that I have no extra money, especially to give them, and she just keeps on! $250! Then $50. Then 4 installments of $25. NO!!! WHAT DO THEY NOT UNDERSTAND ABOUT THE WORD NO!! Very annoying.

Enough ranting, check out PhD Comics for more fun!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

John A. Wilson, 1914 - 2008

Dr. John A. Wilson of the University of Texas at Austin passed away yesterday, in Austin, Texas, at the age of 93, where he was surrounded by his family. Dr. Tim Rowe shared the news with those of us on the verpaleo listserver. I thought I would pass the information along for those of you who are not on the list.

In Dr. Rowe's words:

"Jack, as he was known to his many friends, was born on November 3, 1914, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He received a B.A. degree in 1937 and a Ph.D. in 1941 from the University of Michigan, where he studied under the supervision of E. C. Case. Jack served in the U.S. Naval Reserve during 1943-1945, and saw action in the Pacific during WW II. He taught geology at the University of Idaho School of Mines from 1940-1942 and, following the war, from 1945-1946.

In the fall of 1946, Jack moved to Austin where he joined the staff of the Department of Geology at the University of Texas. He was promoted to Professor of Geology in 1955 and taught until 1976, when he retired and became Professor Emeritus. In 1948, Jack founded the
University of Texas Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory and its graduate training program. To date, some 90 students have earned graduate degrees from the program that Jack started, and over the course of a long and productive career he touched thousands of students in the most positive ways. Even during his retirement, Jack remained active in field work and was deeply involved in the Texas graduate training program.

Jack was a charter member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. He served the SVP as Secretary-Treasurer from 1949-1951 and as President in 1952. Jack was awarded the Romer-Simpson Medal by the SVP in 2000, at the Mexico City meetings. Jack worked in many
different areas of vertebrate paleontology during his long career, but he is best known for his pioneering research on the Tertiary mammals and biostratigraphy of west Texas and Mexico.

Jack was a giant in our profession and he leaves an exceedingly high standard of professional accomplishment and integrity, a very high bar for the rest of us to live up to."

This is a very sad loss for the field of vertebrate paleontology. To read more about Dr. Wilson's accomplishments please visit the UT Austin Vertebrate Paleontology Lab History page (picture from that page).

Edit: Also see Bill Parker's recollections over at Chinleana

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I'm back....

Hello all. I am back from SVP, which was a blast, as always. I unfortunately came home with an unwanted survivor - the cold that was going around. At least it waited till I got home but it had better be gone before my Vegas weekend in a few days with Mr. Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefers.

I have a few hundred pictures to post on my website for the 2008 SVP page (see past years here), but as always, enjoy contributions. If you have any pictures you would like to share with me, please drop me a line (or comment). All pictures will be given credit to the appropriate photographer. I feel like including other peoples pictures makes it a better representation of the entire meeting, and not just my perspective. For now you can see a sneak peak here.

Hopefully I will be over this bug soon and will be back to posting. It was great to see those of you who made it to SVP!

Thanks for reading! ~ ReBecca

Saturday, October 11, 2008


John and I are off to SVP for the week! Hope to see many of you there!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

In case you missed it....

"There's some sites I've worked, in the lower 48, where a chimpanzee with a Popsicle stick can work the localities." ~ Tony Fiorillo [link]

Now there is an idea......

Anyway, now you can now watch the NOVA episode "Arctic Dinosaurs" online! Click here to watch the show. I enjoyed it, although it ended abruptly.

Did anyone else watch this? What did you think?

Also check out the producers story

Monday, October 6, 2008

NOVA: Arctic Dinosaurs on tomorrow!

Don't forget to watch/set your DVR/Tivo to record the 2008 fall season premier of NOVA! This episode will tell the tale of fossil hunting in Alaska. Tony Fiorillo (Dallas Museum of Natural History) has been working along the Colville River with a team from the University of Alaska for several years on a dinosaur bonebed that contains the remains of animals such as Pachyrhinosaurus and Edmontosaurus.

From the NOVA website [link]: The program follows a unique field expedition, covered exclusively by NOVA, as it sets out for Alaska's North Slope to defrost a jackpot of new fossil clues. Seventy-million-year-old fossil bones uncovered at the site include those of giant plant-eaters like Edmontosaurus and Pachyrhinosaurus as well as big-toothed meat-eaters such as the T. rex-like Gorgosaurus. On the expedition, the team of researchers combines extreme engineering and perilous fossil hunting—including blasting a deep tunnel into the permafrost to collect fossils trapped beneath the icy soil—to reveal provocative new clues both as to how the polar dinosaurs lived and to their final extinction. With the aid of stunning CGI animations of these Cretaceous beasts, and with Alaska's spectacular wilderness as a backdrop, NOVA breathes life into the polar dinosaurs' lives and environment in vivid detail.

Be sure to check you local listings to see what time it is on. I know it is on here tomorrow (October 7) on PBS at 7pm.

More on Maltagate (or the continued saga of Nate Murphy vs. Judith River Dinosaur Foundation/Great Plains Dinosaur Museum/JoAnn and Howard Hammond)

More news on the latest paleo-controversy of the year. This is an article that was published in yesterdays Great Falls Tribune. It is a long article, but worth a read, as are the comments (as always), so please feel free to visit their website to read the full article. Items below in green are my own words and not thoughts of Ms. Skornogoski:

Fossil hunter digs up more controversy

Great Falls Tribune Staff Writer

"This summer, fossil hunter Nate Murphy and his crew carefully unearthed three stegosaurus skeletons discovered on a ranch near Grass Range.

Unlike his past dinosaur digs — including the one that unearthed Malta's famed mummy duckbill, Leonardo — Murphy's finds aren't destined for a Montana museum.

The nonprofit Judith River Dinosaur Foundation, which is affiliated with Malta's new Great Plains Dinosaur Museum, cut ties with Murphy in July 2007, after state and federal agents began investigating him for allegedly stealing dinosaurs. Last month, he was charged in Phillips County District Court with stealing a turkey-sized raptor.

However, through his private company, the Judith River Dinosaur Institute, Murphy continues to recruit volunteer scientists along with amateur fossil fans who shell out $1,600 each to spend a week digging by his side.

Some paleontologists fear that he is drawing a fuzzy line with the name of his company. They say it could mislead private landowners who allow fossil hunters on their property with the intent that any dinosaurs discovered be displayed in a Montana museum.

"I think a lot of people are still confused," said Bob Bakker, paleontologist and curator of the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences, which currently hosts Leonardo. "You can't continue to have a for-profit operation with the smokescreen of a nonprofit organization.

"Good-hearted people are donating their time and pay a fee for the privilege of digging — that's reprehensible to have a name like that. There's nothing wrong with running a commercial operation, but they have to be very clear about what they do," Bakker added.

Murphy says his intention always is to keep his finds in Montana.

He recently bought a warehouse in Billings and is working to create a new Dino Lab, much like the converted garage he operated at the Dinosaur Field Station in Malta. Murphy said his plan is to eventually keep the stegosaurus finds there.

Grass Range rancher David Hein, whose family owns the land where the stegosaurus skeletons were found, wouldn't detail his arrangement with Murphy, but said he is confident the dinosaurs will stay in the state.

"We have found Nate to be very honest and honorable in all his dealings with us," Hein said. "We consider him a friend."

Malta ranchers JoAnn and Howard Hammond had similar opinions of Murphy for the 16 years he brought dig crews onto their land. Once they learned of the criminal allegations, the Hammonds betrayed, they said, and tried to warn other landowners.

Grass Range rancher Merril Klakken said the Hammonds' worries didn't concern him, so he let Murphy dig on his land in the summer.

"When we made the agreement, the bones were to go to the Judith River Foundation in Malta and remain there," Klakken said. "Now, when we saw him this summer, Nate said he had a warehouse lined up in Billings to take these bones to. I don't know what's going to happen."

The fossils found on Klakken's property are stored in his shed, but they belong to Murphy by contract. Klakken will get 10 percent of any money made from replicas.

Sue Frary, the director of programs and exhibits at the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum, said any claims that fossils found by Murphy and his commercial customers will go to Malta are false.

"We would not accept any fossils from him, nor do we have any affiliation with him," she said. "We do realize that he's continuing his dig programs, but we have no idea where those fossils are going."

In the current criminal case, prosecutors allege that Murphy lied about where he found a rare raptor, which is estimated to be worth between $150,000 and $400,000.

Prosecutors say Murphy told paleontologists two stories: first, that he found the raptor in Saco and, later, that it was hidden under a fossilized turtle found on the Hammonds' land and was discovered in the lab.

The original location of the raptor fossil is important because, in the United States, whoever owns the land, owns the dinosaur.

Court documents state that Murphy shipped the raptor to the Black Hills Institute in South Dakota to have molds and casts made.

Bakker said commercial sellers can make far more money from replicas than from selling the original fossils.

On his company's Web site, Murphy writes that he is working to create a new nonprofit organization, the Little Snowy Mountain Dinosaur Project, where people could send tax deductible donations to get the new Dino Lab up and running.

"Because he was forced out of Malta after having done everything for those people up there, he's starting all over again," Hein said.

Most of Murphy's great finds draw crowds to Malta's new museum, which opened in June. The dinosaur that made him famous, the duckbill Leonardo, now stars in a year-long special exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences and is the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary.

Leonardo is considered the world's best preserved dinosaur because his skin and organs — even his last meal — are intact. Scientists believe he could hold answers to questions about what the world was like 77 million years ago.

Murphy said Leonardo's fame made Murphy the target of paleontologists who questioned his credentials because he doesn't have a doctorate. It also made people start seeing dollar signs.

"I do what I love to do — it's never been about money," he said. "Even though, later on, other people put price tags on these dinosaurs, I've never cared about the money."

Depending on who's telling the story, Murphy either volunteered or was pushed to sign over his partial ownership of all the fossils found on the Hammonds' land from his private institute to the similarly named nonprofit foundation.

Murphy said he learned his lesson and now he specifies in his contracts with landowners before he begins digging that he has controlling interest in the specimens.

In dinosaur and ancient antiquity hotspots such as China, Egypt, Israel and Mongolia, any fossils or artifacts found belong to the people of the country.

Other countries such as Argentina are more of a free market, with dinosaur hunters and nonprofits battling in court to claim valuable finds.

While there isn't a state law dictating who owns fossils found in Montana, a federal judge has laid out the rules all paleontologists and commercial diggers must follow across the country.

A fierce court battle stemmed from the discovery of one of the largest Tyrannosaurus — and the most complete — ever discovered. It was named Sue after the amateur paleontologist who found it in 1990, in South Dakota's Hell Creek Formation....."

Now the story turns to Sue and that entire situation, which I would rather not relive, but I encourage you to read.

"A federal judge decided that whoever owns the land — be it the state, the federal government or a private party — owns whatever fossils are found in the ground.

Sue later sold at auction for nearly $8 million, opening the door to high-dollar dinosaur dealing.

Given the state and federal investigation of Murphy, Judith River Dinosaur Foundation board members feared court wrangling similar to that over sue could occur over Leonardo.

According to the court documents charging Murphy with stealing the turkey-sized raptor, he arranged with the Hammonds to equally split ownership of all discoveries on their property.

With the investigation looming, the foundation scrambled to switch ownership of Leonardo and several other fossils from Murphy's company to the foundation.

"It was a bit like getting divorced, and the fear was that the fossil would get tied up in the divorce," said Joe Iacuzzo, Murphy's former business partner. "We heard wild estimates that Leonardo would sell for $1 million to $10 million."

While Leonardo is in Houston, the allegedly stolen raptor, which is considered evidence in the pending felony case, is being kept safe in a locked state evidence locker.

Though officials with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office can't talk about an investigation until charges are filed, witnesses involved in the case say they believe the charges involving the raptor are just the beginning.

"It's not just the raptor, it was others too," Bakker said. "The federal investigation is much bigger."

Murphy first got tangled up with the law in 1994, when he found a hadrosaur brachylophosaurs, named Elvis, 35 miles north of Malta, on federal Bureau of Land Management property. With a storm rolling in, Murphy shored up the dirt above the exposed bones and covered the fossil until he could return with an official.

He was fined $500 for tampering with a historic specimen.

Montana paleontologists fear that landowners will be reluctant to allow scientists on their property to hunt for fossils because Murphy has long had a reputation as a respected fossil hunter who volunteers his time to discover and protect Montana's Jurassic jewels.

Bynum-area paleontologist David Trexler, whose family found Montana's other major dinosaur discovery known worldwide as Egg Mountain, considered Murphy a friend and compatriot in the mission to find and keep dinosaurs in the state.

Trexler and Murphy developed a code of ethics for professional and amateur diggers, hoping to guide fossil hunters to develop good relationships with landowners and follow responsible digging practices.

"He talked the talk and, to me and a lot of others, he seemed to walk the walk," Trexler said. "Come to find out, he set up the rules for everybody else."

Trexler and Bakker both advise landowners to check references and make sure that fossil hunters work for nonprofits before signing any contracts.

"It's sad, but the days of the handshake and you're as good as your word are going away," Trexler said. "I'm hoping that the focus will help landowners understand the differences between someone who says 'I'm a paleontologist and I want to collect dinosaurs,' and someone who says 'I can make you a whole bunch of money.'"

Trexler added that he hopes the charges and pending federal investigation of Murphy will encourage the Legislature and Montana's federal congressional delegation to license and regulate fossil hunting.

He also would like to see changes in the law to give states the first opportunity to buy fossils found on private land that are then put up for sale.

When Trexler first started in paleontology, two dinosaurs found in Montana could be seen in the state. He's made it his life's goal to build the Dinosaur Trail — a series of small-town museums dotting the Hi-Line — to benefit the communities where the dinosaurs were found.

It's the potential impact of Murphy's charges on the Dinosaur Trail and efforts to continue that work that worry him the most.

"I really, really worry about the damage," Trexler said. "I know the folks in Malta are not going to be hurt over the long term. But is this going to hurt the Dinosaur Trail? Is this going to offset the good that Leonardo is going to do? Is this going to lure more commercial diggers here?

"Obviously there are going to be repercussions. I just hope they're not too severe," he added."

Read the entire article here. Thanks to Russ for the heads up as the story continues to develop.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

SVP Bloggers' Lunch

Julia over at the Ethical Paleontologist has organized a Bloggers' Lunch for all of us paleo bloggers' attending SVP. Look for us from 12:15 to 1:30 at the 4th Street bar and grill. Head on over to the the Ethical Paleontologist for more details! Hope to see some of you then!

Friday, October 3, 2008

New Book: Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau

This new book was recently brought to my attention - Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau by Ron Blakey and Wayne Ranney.

From the website:
"The Colorado Plateau is one of the world's great showplaces of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock. The plateau's rocky landscapes are home to the greatest concentration of national parks and monuments in the world. Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau highlights the plateau's magnificent present through unique views of its fascinating past. It is a groundbreaking book featuring the geology of the American Southwest in a way you've never seen it before. This landmark book features:

more than 70 state-of-the-art paleogeographic maps of the region and of the world, developed over many years of geologic research

detailed yet accessible text that covers the geology of the plateau in a way nongeologists can appreciate

more than 100 full-color photographs, diagrams, and illustrations

a detailed guide of where to go to see the spectacular rocks of the region

Join Ron Blakey and Wayne Ranney on a trip through deep time, a trip through the ancient landscapes of the Colorado Plateau."

It is available on for $23.07.

Thanks to Jim for the heads up

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Welcome Pachyrhinosaur lakustai!!

The name Pachyrhinosaur lakustai was finally revealed yesterday for the new Grand Prairie/Pipestone Creek ceratopsian! From the press release at LiveScience:

"A catastrophic event 72.5 million years ago left a herd of giant, horned dinosaurs buried to become fossils. Now scientists have identified the extinct creatures as a new species.

The fossils, found in Northwest Alberta, Canada, revealed a herd of so-called ceratopsian dinosaurs that perished together. The animals are characterized by a bony frill on the back of the skull ornamented with smaller horns.

Parts of at least 27 individual animals were recovered at the site.

These dinosaurs also had large bony structures above their nose and eyes, which lends them their name: Pachyrhinosaurus (thick-nosed lizard). These structures probably supported horns of keratin, said researcher Philip Currie, Canada research chair of dinosaur paleobiology at the University of Alberta, who was involved in the excavations.

The new species of Pachyrhinosaurus is closely related to Pachyrhinosaurus canadensis, which is known from younger rocks near Drumheller and Lethbridge in southern Alberta, Currie said. The newfound species is a smaller animal with many differences in the ornamental spikes and bumps on the skull.

The adults of both species have massive bosses, or protuberances, of bone in the positions where other horned dinosaurs (like Centrosaurus and Triceratops) have horns. However, juveniles of the new species resemble juveniles of Centrosaurus in having horns rather than bosses.

Northwest Alberta was not previously known for dinosaur material. In the 1970s, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Alberta began to lead excavations and studies of the Pipestone Creek bone bed there. The naming of the new species, Pachyrhinosaur lakustai, honors Al Lakusta, a now retired science teacher in Grande Prairie, Alberta.

"The density of the Pipestone Creek bonebed is exceptional and surpasses many of Alberta's other ceratopsian bonebed sites," Currie said. "The preservation of the material is outstanding and was easy to collect. The number of bones, from all age groups, made complex investigations possible regarding behavior and growth patterns."

The site contains fossils from young and old individuals, allowing researchers to describe individual variations and growth patterns, investigate the possibility of sexual dimorphism, and hypothesize on a herding lifestyle.

With this new species, researchers will now have more data to give a better understanding of the ancient life and ecosystems in northwestern Alberta in the Cretaceous period, Currie said.

The study of the Pachyrhinosaurs is detailed in a book, "A New Horned Dinosaur from an Upper Cretaceous Bone Bed in Alberta," by Currie, Wann Langston, Jr. and Darren H. Tanke (NRC Press, 2008). [Link to buy the book here]

"Ongoing cooperation between Grande Prairie Regional College, the Royal Tyrrell Museum and the University of Alberta has uncovered many additional sites and fossils in our region," said Jack O'Toole, chair of the Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Project.

Andrew Neuman, executive director of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, explained the importance of the Pipestone Creek site. "Working on a previously unknown site that is abundant in dinosaur material shows how rich the entire province of Alberta is in paleontological resources," he said."

The book is still unavailable on but you can order it directly here. I can not wait to get my copy!

(pictures are from River of Death Dinosaur Centre)