Posts Tagged ‘Paleontology’

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There are lots of people and things that can affect your life but very few will ever change is. The Paleontology Program at the Burpee Museum of Natural History has changed my life, in the most amazing ways possible.

 

I remember being thirteen in 2005 and being so excited to visit the museum to see Jane, their juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex. I’ve been a dinosaur/paleo enthusiast since I was two years old and was really amped to see this important specimen. When we walked up to the main desk I saw a brochure for volunteering on summer expedition with the Burpee to the Hell Creek. I snatched one up, and knew right then that I had to go on this dig.

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Myself (in the orange) on my first dig in 2007

The next two summers I saved up money from various jobs and in 2007 at fifteen years old I went on my first dig with the Burpee, and it was the best choice I ever made. I was so excited when I reached Camp Needmore, ready to tackle the coming week and looking forward to this new experience. After years of reading books and watching documentaries I’d finally be in the action.

 

It is now nine years later, and I have just returned from Utah where I was on my sixth expedition with the Burpee. Over the years I have worked my way up from volunteer, to intern, and now these past four weeks I was actually an officially employed field assistant. I remember during my first few digs how I’d watch Scott Williams, Josh Matthews, Katie Tremaine, and the other leaders teaching the volunteers, telling personal stories, and generally being a unit. I am now a part of that unit. I’m helping with the teaching and prep during the digs. Their stories are now my stories. I am a part of their family.

 

Beyond my growth within the Burpee itself, without the Paleo Program I would not be where I am today. It’s because of the Burpee that I ended up going to Augustana College (IL)- where I met many of my closest friends, and had other important life experiences. It’s because of the program and people involved that I’ve had the jobs I’ve had, and my life is on its current trajectory. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for people like Scott, Katie, and Josh.

Also, because of the Burpee Paleo Program and related events (like PaleoFest) that I’ve made incredible connections. I’ve met and talked with some of the top scientists like Jack Horner, John Foster, Phil Currie, Kristina Curry Rogers, and many more; I’ve had dinner, joked, and shared drinks with Mark Goodwin, Brian Switek, Eugenia Gold, and Mike D’Emic; I’ve sat and dug literally next to Jim Kirkland, and Thomas Holtz! Many of these people are paleo giants that I idolized growing up. I never thought I’d ever meet them let alone dig alongside them.  Yet here I am, doing exactly that all because of Burpee’s Paleo

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Thomas Holtz at the Burpee Ninja Turtle site in Montana. I’m behind the camera, trying not to scream.

Program.

 

I have learned so much about the science, personal work ethic, and (as corny as it sounds) myself because of this program. It has been invaluable to me as an individual.

It’s incredible to see how the Burpee has helped advance the science. Some of the most important papers and research in the last decade have ties to Burpee either by using their specimens, presenting it at PaleoFest, or from help/collaboration with the staff.

Since my first time going to the Burpee in 2005 I have been able to see the museum grow into a completely different entity mainly because of the Paleo Program. I’ve seen great new additions, including Homer’s Odyssey and many great traveling exhibits like African Giants, Megalodon, and Savage Ancient Seas. I’ve witnessed some of the best paleo symposiums ever including this past year’s Women in Paleontology PaleoFest. I’ve seen the Paleo Program strive to have new forms of outreach and education like attending Comic Cons, giving guided tours at dig sites, and hosting different family oriented events.  I’ve been able to see new people grace the museum’s halls and I’ve seen kids come back each year to events or digs and grow as individuals, exactly like me.

 

My life has forever been changed and I can’t imagine it without the Paleo Program or the individuals involved like Scott, Katie, and Josh. I owe a lot to them, their hard work, and their dedication. They are great mentors, scientists, and friends.

 

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From right to left: Scott Williams, Steven Landi, Josh Mathews, Eugenia Gold, Katie Tremaine, and myself.

 

 

With Jurassic World release right around the corner (only a little more than a month away!) I’m sure you’ve already begun to see the onslaught of JW gear arriving in local stores! Toys, food products, games, and even limited edition Barbasol Shaving Cream cans. On top of all of that you can expect there to be a plethora of books based on and inspired by Jurassic World. It’s only fitting since the franchise began as a book, right? While most of the books will probably tend to focus on the story of the film, there are some exceptions to that rule- one of which being the newly released Jurassic World: Dinosaur Field Guide.

Now this book is actually a revised/updated (as the cover suggests) reprinting of the Jurassic Park: Institute Dinosaur Field Guide, which was originally published in 2001 coinciding with the release of Jurassic Park 3. Jurassic Park: Institute was started as an endeavor to bring the latest scientific knowledge about dinosaurs via the Jurassic Park franchise. JPI included a incredibly interactive and informational website, an interactive tour in Japan, and several book publications- one of which being the original Dinosaur Field Guide.

The original Dinosaur Field Guide is an exquisite book, perfect for dinosaur enthusiasts of any age as well as Jurassic Park fans. It’s full of [at that point in time] up to date facts thanks to Dr. Thomas Holtz and Dr. Michael Brett-Surman, and exquisite artwork by Robert Waters. It also included a large poster listing various dinosaur species, and had special notes that contained behind the scenes facts of the Jurassic Park films.

But a lot changes in fourteen years in the field of paleontology and the writers and artist teamed up again to revise their book and released it again under the Jurassic World title (since Jurassic Park: Institute is no more sadly.) So how does it compare to it’s predecessor, and what can you expect? Well, let’s take a look!

The opening page is a note from the authors asking and attempting to answer the age old question: Why are dinosaurs so popular? It was a powerful opening in the 2001 original and it’s just as powerful now, going on to theorize that unlike other movie monsters, dinosaurs were once real and their sheer size and imaginable power will always fascinate us and our culture, One part has been revised from the 2001 text, now stating we have over 1,200 species of Dinosauria and that the number grows by about 40 each year. It’s staggering to read. And the closing remarks of the note from the authors on the commercial selling and poaching of dinosaur bones is  incredibly poignant.

The next few pages briefly, yet cohesively, cover the basic facts of the history of the dinosaurs (eras, time span,) as well as some information on Mesozoic plant life, how fossils are found and classified, the differentiation between ornithischian and saurischian, and a great note on drawing dinosaurs/paleoartistry, Overall these pages are exactly the same with some as in the 2001 text, with only some minor (yet major revisions.) One such revision is the changing of the end of the Cretaceous from 65 MYA to 66 MYA. It’s an important new update to the science and one I’m really glad to see in this text (since many books, media, etc. are still saying 65 MYA.)

I’m also glad that the ornithischian vs. saurischian information was still left in. Those facts are sometimes absent in many children’s texts (or it’s referenced and never really explained.) Holtz and Brett-Surman give a really good and in depth explanation as well as a diagram on the difference between the two.) I do wish that a image of the two’s pubis was included instead of just an explanation but that’s really just a nit-pick.

The main body of the book is a guide to various species of Mesozoic animals (100 to be exact: 87 dinosaurs, 3 marine reptiles, 6 non-dino archosaurs, and 4 pterosaurs (each of the non dinosaurs also have a short preface about what exactly they are in relation to dinosaurs, and the Mesozoic.) ) The guide for the most part is exactly the same except for a few changes. The page includes the name of the species, the date it was named, the name meaning, and then lists diet, location, size, and trivia facts. The main body of the page for each species explains the history of the animal and past and present theories on the animals going on in the field of paleontology today.

Some dinosaurs have been removed and some dinosaurs are new. New dinosaurs include: Anzu,  Edmontosaurus, and Othnielosaurus (was Othnielia in 2001 edition,)

There has also been a massive overhaul on the artwork, with lots of new or revised images differing from the 2001 text. Many of the animals (mainly theropods) and feathered now- a very welcome update to the text. Some of the artworks differs in style from each other and I think this has to do with there actually being two artists on this book. Robert Walters is credited on the cover as doing the illustrations but apparently Bruce J. Mohn also lent a hand in doing some of the art work as well, which was then painted by Walters. Overall the artwork is great, but there is an obvious difference between the two styles present- which was not the case in the original text. It’s not a major issue but may set off some people’s OCD.

The facts for each species continue to be great and up to date. A lot of it is the same information as the 2001 text, but there are appropriate revisions to the dating, locations, sizes, and species of dinosaurs based on current information. I do wish that some new information and debates were included though (such as Trike vs. Torosaurus and the new theory on Spinosaurus, and several others.) Current debates such as these are really changing and setting fire to the paleo-community and I feel like the are important to mention.

Probably my one biggest issue with the entire book is the revisions to the “movie facts” on random pages of the text. In the original 2001 text there would be, on select pages (usually pages with animals actually featured in the JP films) there would be an image from the JP film along with (in a slap board) info on the dinosaur in relation to the film itself. It ranged from correcting the sci-fi depictions of the dinosaurs (such as dilophosaur in Jurassic Park having venomous spit) or discussing how Tyrannosaurus rex was depicted as a caring parent.

In this edition all of the previous “movie facts” are taken out and replaced with new ones that are… vary random and not anywhere near as satisfying.  First off many of them appear on pages where they shouldn’t be (like dimorphodon being in dilophosaurs page or an apatosaur fact being on the brachiosaur page when apatosaur has it’s own section in the book itself!) Now I assume that the reason why these edits are where they are is because these pages are where the “movie facts” were in the first edition so it was fairly easy to edit the text and just swap out the picture. But if you’re going to just edit the captions at least make it a little more interesting than ‘T.rex roars on to the big screen in Jurassic World!’ Nearly all the captions say something along those lines, offering up no real information or facts unlike in the 2001 text. It’s really the biggest disappointment out of the book. Even if the editors/Universal isn’t wanting “too much” shared on JW before it’s release I still think something more substantial than a constant “come see the movie” ad should’ve been allowed.

Overall though this book is still fantastic. It actually compliments the original text well I think, especially with it’s updated information and several new dinosaurs. While there is noticeable difference in art styles, and the “movie facts” end up being nothing more than a film promotion, the book itself holds up as a wonderful basic guide into the world of the dinosaurs. It’s great for younger dinosaur enthusiasts. The text is easily understandable and everything is well explained. While you may not want to start a five year old out on this, it’s defiantly something that the pre-teenish dinosaur enthusiasts will really enjoy and find useful. But really the book is a great guide for all ages. I still take my original copy out during field work, and this edition will probably be no different. It’s great to use to brush up on facts about dinosaurs you may be excavating, or seeing in museums.

Jurassic World: Dinosaur Field Guide has a price listing of $12.99, and is currently in book stores now.

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Anybody who knows me knows that I have a great love for the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, IL. The small museum is a great place to learn about natural history as well as present day wildlife, and so much more. It has exhibits that display a wealth of information, and really relays it all to the public in a very down to earth and enjoyable way. They also have a great paleo program, and offer volunteer opportunities to their digs in both Montana and Utah over the summer. I’ve gone on several digs with the Burpee, and over the years have built a really strong relationship with the wonderful team at the museum.

But above all, the number one event that has allowed me to build such a strong and lasting relationship with not only this museum, but other paleontologists around the world, is PaleoFest. For the past seventeen years, the Burpee has been home to an annual conference where some of the leading names in paleontology gather to present on their latest research. It’s a more informal, intimate version of SVP. This year’s PaleoFest is bound to be one of the biggest ones yet rivaling their 2013 Late Cretaceous Symposium. 2015’s PaleoFest is themed “The Beginning of Dinosaurs and the Origin of the Modern World,” and will focus on the Triassic and Jurassic periods of the Mesozoic. Tickets for this event went on sale today so I thought that I should spread the word! Without further adieu, here are my top five reasons why you NEED to attend this years PaleoFest

1.) The Lectures

There are going to be some outstanding lectures this year by some of the leading names in paleontology, including Dr. Mark Goodwin, Dr. Stephen Brusatte, Dr. Hans-Dieter Sues, Dr. Paul Sereno, Dr. Susan Evans, Dr. Matt Bonnan and many many more. Talks will be focused on life in the Triassic and Jurassic periods and the evolution of our earth. The talks given at PaleoFests aren’t just factual, but fun! The key note presentations are also always enjoyable. Accompanied with a delicious dinner that takes place after night one of PaleoFest, guests enjoy the key note lecture. At the end of the event you’ll be up to date on current theories and possibly even potential future research these scientists will be doing. The presenters know how to give a great presentation without it ever being too heavy handed, or dull. You’ll get the facts you want, and have a great time doing it. Learning can be fun!

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2.) The Atmosphere 

The museum is going to be packed, and busy–but you’re going to love it. It’s going to be full of people who love the world of paleontology and natural history just as much as you do! Nobody is out of place here during the two day event. Everyone comes together for a common purpose–to learn from the best! There are going to be plenty of opportunities to talk and discuss ideas and theories with complete strangers who will be just as excited as you are about the topics being presented on. You’ll make new friends which leads me to my 3rd point…

3.) Making Connections

To me, this is the BEST thing about PaleoFest. Unlike SVP, the Burpee offers a more laid back and intimate setting to host its conference. This factor affords you the opportunity to get one on one time with the scientists attending the event. Over the years I have met with and interviewed many scientists at PaleoFest and have kept in contact with a good majority of them! While it may seem intimidating to walk up to top paleontologist, just keep this in mind- they are JUST AS EXCITED about the science as you are! They are ready, willing, and able to answer any questions you have. This opportunity to meet with leading scientists is also a HUGE chance for college students/soon to be college students to meet with these scientists and make connections for possible future college opportunities. When you’re at PaleoFest, don’t just sit on your duff! Go and interact with other visitors as well as the presenters. It will make your experience ten times better than it already was.

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4.) The Exhibits AND Burpee Staff

While PaleoFest is going on the museum is still in full operation, which means between the talks or during breaks you have the chance to roam around and take in some of the Burpee’s amazing exhibits. Along the way, the Burpee team has also placed some interactive stations throughout the museum, where you can have a chance to learn more about the world of paleontology, or current theories on how scientists believe prehistoric creatures lived. There are also small break out sessions for the younger paleo-lovers, where they can learn about the world of the dinosaurs and also have a hand in making different crafts. The Burpee staff are truly a great bunch of people who are passionate about what the they do. The manpower and time put in to events like PaleoFest are testament to that enough! During PaleoFest you’ll often see Burpee team members running around working hard, or giving guided tours throughout the museum.

5.) The Auctions

Last but not least! The auctions that happen at PaleoFest always offer a great opportunity to a.) nab some REALLY cool gear/items b.) have a good laugh. The Burpee’s PaleoFest team, led by Scott Williams, knows how to put on a show and work the crowd. The items up for sale range from high quality paleo-art, to signed books, and even casts of fossils made by the Burpee staff! Ibf bidding wars aren’t “your thing” to join in on, watching the auctions alone is fun in and of itself. Some people really get passionate about wanting those casts and those Estwing rock hammers!

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If you are interested in natural history or paleontology, or even if you are just curious about any of it- PaleoFest is for you!  The even brings in tons of every day people just wanting to know more about the science of paleontology, as well as die hard enthusiasts. The presenters make it all easy to follow and understand, without skimping on any of the material. PaleoFest is an amazing two day event, unlike any other, that will entertain as much as it will inform you about the fascinating would of paleontology.

PaleoFest is March 14th and 15th, 2015

Passes:
One day Pass
Memers: $45
NonMombers: $55
Student (with ID): $45
Two day Pass
Members: $65
NonMembers: $75
Student (with ID): $65

Key Note Dinner and Lecture: 

Burpee Members: $55
General Public: $65

Tickets are available online as well as by calling 815-965-3433

* Find out more about PaleoFest events, and talks as well as the different kids activities by visiting www.burpee.org