What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Danek Bonebed

The summer is over and school is back in session. Here in Edmonton the leaves already started to turn yellow last week. And somehow the summer got so busy that I hardly posted anything at all here. So, it’s nice to fix that up and talk about what I did on my summer ‘vacation’, by which I mean the time that undergrads are not at university but grad students are.

The ‘summer’ (which doesn’t really start until mid-June in Edmonton, but whatevs) started up with the PALEO 400 field school in early May. For three weeks, students help excavate the Danek Bonebed, a hadrosaur bonebed located right in the city (but in a secret location, to prevent vandalism). Over the course of those three weeks, they get to do everything: shoveling lots of dirt, uncovering bones with fine tools, plaster jacketing, carrying heavy things back to the truck, quarry mapping, field identification, you name it. Each student comes up with a research project related to the bonebed and writes a paper and/or presents a talk in October. This year we had five enthusiastic students and I am looking forward to hearing all about their projects later this fall.

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Thoughts on Tarbosaurus, Part 1.

Last time I promised photos of our fieldwork here in Edmonton, but then over the weekend the palaeoverse kind of erupted (in a good way) over the auction of a Tarbosaurus skeleton. Go read Brian Switek’s articlefirst if you’re not acquainted with the story.

Because I am insane, I often read the comments sections on news articles about palaeontology. There are a lot of weird and misguided statements in the comments sections of some of the Tarbosaurus auction news articles (e.g. at CNN, USAToday, Wired). Some of these comments make me frustrated, so I figured I’d try to write down my thoughts on some of the most common recurring themes: 1) Paleontologists are just as bad as fossil poachers and/or private collectors because we hoard the dinosaurs all to ourselves and lock them away in cabinets where the public can’t see them; 2) How do we know the tyrannosaur came from Mongolia?; 3) Why does the auction company call it Tyrannosaurus bataar while palaeontologists call it Tarbosaurus?; and 4) Why is fossil poaching such a big deal, anyway? I’m going to address these over a couple of blog posts because for some reason on these topics I am unusually longwinded and the answer to the first question was getting kind of gigantic. Continue reading

Waking up from hibernation.

And by hibernation, I mean grad school. The last few weeks have been pretty busy here in Edmonton and I’ve found myself without a lot of time to blog about interesting things that have been going on. Thankfully, that busy-ness is a result of research productivity and teaching, which are both good things! So, over the next few days, as we head into the (still somewhat cold) field season here in Alberta, I’ll try to cover a bit of what’s been happening for the last couple months… Continue reading

Care of Magical Creatures

The University of Alberta is currently hosting an exhibit called Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine, in the John W. Scott Health Sciences Library. Let’s Talk Science, a Canadian science outreach organization with a U of A chapter, was asked to organize ‘classes’ for a Harry Potter-themed science day, so my good friend Scott Persons and I put together “Care of Magical Creatures”. You may think it would be hard to mix magic and mythology with science, but we were pretty happy with how much natural history education we were able to convey over the course of the day. For those interested in science outreach and education, here’s how to do your own Care of Magical Creatures class. You might be surprised by the results!

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A Return Visit to the Jurassic Forest

Last fall I visited the newly-opened Jurassic Forest and enjoyed it very much. However, because winter arrives early in Edmonton, the leaves had already fallen and the dinosaurs were quite snowy! Today I spent some time showing off ankylosaur fossils and casts with visitors at the forest, and had a chance to see the dinosaur trails in their summer greener. Here’s a few new photos from the forest!

Styracosaurus looks like it’s in its natural environment. Continue reading

The winter term draws to a close, the fossils come out of hiding one last time.

We are very fortunate at the University of Alberta to offer several courses in Palaeontology (and not just through zoology or biology – they get their own PALEO course code). PALEO 418 and 419 cover vertebrate palaeontology in lecture and lab format, PALEO 414 focuses more on invertebrate paleontology and functional morphology, and PALEO 400 is a field school held right in Edmonton at the Danek hadrosaur bonebed. Continue reading