“God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs…” – Dr. Malcolm
“Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth…” – Dr. Sattler
I have recently read Dr. Horner’s book How to Build a Dinosaur and I thought I would put some of my thoughts to “paper”.
Ever since I was four I’ve wanted to become a paleontologist (see below). Dinosaurs fascinated me like they do most children, but I was one of those rare birds that never lost that fascination. If anything, it grew!
When I thought of my future as a paleontologist, I had a grandiose image of trekking through the Gobi Desert or maybe more appropriate for this post, the Hell Creek Formation, searching for never before discovered dinosaurs (or at least some well preserved ones!). The image would have been incomplete of course without my Indiana Jones (or Dr. Grant) hat. Having read Dr. Horner’s recent book, How to Build a Dinosaur, I can’t help but acknowledge that dinosaur paleontology, and paleontology in general, has gone beyond deserts and old bones, and into a world of labs and biology.
In the book, Dr. Horner brilliantly introduces the reader to fairly recent discoveries which have begun to merge paleontology with modern biology, genetics, embryology and evolutionary developmental biology. Starting with Dr. Schweitzer’s discovery of tissue in a Tyrannosaur bone, to Dr. Horner’s idea of creating a Chickenosaurus, the book becomes more and more biological. Simply put, I’m a little frightened.
I approach paleontology more from a geological viewpoint than that of biology. I can understand the basic language when reading a paper with genetics or molecular biology but deep down I’m still a geologist. My greatest pleasure is being out in the field, hunting for new things, hopefully dinosaur bones if life treats me well.
I guess I am just worried as to where I will end up in the field of paleontology. I’m still young, still have plenty of years of education ahead of me still so I’m sure I can adapt to the changing field, but that won’t change my desire to be out in the field. Dr. Horner’s book which has brought about this mild crisis of the future, also brings some relief. Even as paleontology and biology collide, there is still a need to discover new specimens. Individuals such as Dr. Schweitzer certainly can’t try to find dinosaur tissue in bone if no one finds the bones first!
Alright, this is the 3rd time I’ve tried writing this post and it is working in my head better than in print so I’m going to summarize a few thoughts and call it quits.
Horner’s book is well written and does a fine job, in my opinion, to introduce some of the new frontiers in paleontology. I highly recommend that anyone read this book, especially if you have an interest in paleontology, biology or both. Maybe the book will give you something to think about as it has done for me. Maybe it will give you a new research idea or focus (as it has also done for me).
Some other Paleo-Genetics related items. A recent paper has been released suggesting genetic evidence for interbreeding between Anatomically Modern Humans and Neanderthals. I have the paper but haven’t sat down with it yet. Here is a summary article.
If you find that the Neanderthal article peaks your interest, I would recommend Reflections of Our Past by Dr. Relethford. I have had the opportunity to take a few paleoanthropology classes with Dr. Relethford and he is a very intelligent individual. His book is well worth the read. Note its a primarily genetics based book.
That is all for now. I’d love to hear anyone’s opinions on this new frontier in paleontology! Cheers!