In our 44th episode of I Know Dino, we had the pleasure of speaking with Christopher Lowman, a fourth year graduate student at UC Berkeley, studying archaeology, who took part in a Royal Tyrell Museum public program and saw a Pachyrhinosaurus being excavated.
We also talk about Pachyrhinosaurus, a “horned” dinosaur that actually had bosses, not horns.
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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Pachyrhinosaurus, whose name means “thick nosed lizard”
- Lived in Cretaceous in North America
- Discovered by Charles M. Sternberg in Alberta Canada in 1946, named the species in 1950
- Charles M. Sternberg also named Edmontonia, he was a Reverend’s son and his sons George, Charles, and Levi also hunted for fossils
- First Pachyrhinosaurus fossils may have been discovered in 1880, but the ones found in 1946 were the ones leading to it being named in 1950
- Partial skulls and other fossils have been found in Alberta and Alaska (different species), but not many fossils available to be studied until the 1980s
- Technically Pachyrhinosaurus is a “horned” dinosaur, but it didn’t have that many horns
- Skulls had flattened bosses (instead of horns), with a large one over the nose and a smaller one over the eyes
- Bosses are big, flattened bulges
- Adult Pachyrhinosaurus had thick sheaths and padding to cover their nasal bosses
- Also had a pair of horns from the frill that grew upwards, and small ornamental horns on the skull (varied between species and individuals)
- In the 70s, some paleontologists thought that the bosses on Pachyrhinosaurus‘ face were just the base for giant horns that may have broken off after they died, but no giant horns have been found so far
- In 2013, PLOS One study called “An Immature Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum (Dinosauria: Ceratopsidae) Nasal Reveals Unexpected Complexity of Craniofacial Ontogeny and Integument in Pachyrhinosaurus” found a new juvenile specimen of P. perotorum in Alaska that showed the changing stages of the nasal boss “reveals a more complicated craniofacial ontogeny in Pachyrhinosaurus than previously thought”
- At one point the two nasal bones were fully fused together and the nasal posterior may have quickly elongated to accomodate the nasal boss formation
- Pachyrhinosaurus had bones on its heads, possibly used for head butting (find mates or fight)
- Specimens have been found with broken ribs and partially healed ribs, so they may have flanked each other
- May have charged predators like a modern rhinosaurus
- Three species found: P. lakustai from Wapiti Formation (73.5-72.5 million years ago), P. canadensis from lower Horsehose Canyon Formations (71.5-71 million years ago), P. perotorum from the Prince Creek Formation in Alaska (70-69 million years ago)
- P. canadensis was named in 1950, P. lakustai in 2008, P. perotorum in 2012
- Type species is P. canadensis
- 2008: Philip Currie, Wann Langston Jr. and Darren Tanke made a detailed monograph of the skull of a Pachyrhinosaurus and classified it as a second species, P. lakustai, named after the person who discovered it
- A Pachyrhinosaurus bonebed was found in Alberta in the late 1980s, where paleontologists found 3500 bones and 14 skulls (possibly the group tried and failed to cross a river during a flood); fossils were from juveniles and adults, so they may have taken care of their young
- Al Lakusta found the bonebed in 1973
- Pachyrhinosaurus bones found in the bonebed in the 1980s had convex (curved outward) and concave (curved inward) bosses, possibly due to erosion. P. lakustai named after Al Lakusta (science teacher from Alberta)
- P. perotorum is named after Ross Perot
- Species named after Perot because he funded scientific expeditions
- P. canadensis had eye and snout bosses nearly together, with curved backwards pointing horns on the frill, two flattened horns that point forwards and down from the top of the frill, and a flat round nasal boss
- P. lakustai sometimes has been found with two curved backwards pointing horns on the frill, and had a jagged comb extension on the tip of the nasal boss, a pommel on the front of the nasal boss, and a comb like horn rising from the middle of the frill behind the eyes
- P. perotorum had eye and snout bosses almost together, a jagged comb extension on the tip of the nasal boss, and a narrow dome in the center of the upper portion of the nasal boss
- The boss on the nose was different for each species. P. lakustai and P. perotorum had a jagged, comb-like extension at the tip, P. perotorum had a narrow dome in the middle of the boss, P. lakustai had a structure coming out of the front, P. canadensis had a flat, rounded boss, P. perotorum had two flattened horns from the top of the frill and P. lakustai had a comb-like horn
- P. canadensis and P. perotorum, bosses grew together, separated by a narrow groove (bosses over the nose and eyes)
- P. lakustai, two bosses had a large gap
- P. canadensis and P. lakustai had two small, curved horns that pointed backwards and came from the frill (P. perotorum did not have this, and not all P. lakustai had them, so may have changed based on age or gender)
- P. canadensis had a flat, round nasal boss, P. perotorum had a domed top, some P. lakustai‘s frills had “unicorn horns” but may be the way the fossils were preserved (from the ones in the bonebed)
- In 2014, Darla Zelenitsky from University of Calgary announced the find of a well-preserved Pachyrhinosaurus skull (75-80% complete), found in Alberta’s Badlands
- Skull is an adult’s and is large (possibly the biggest Pachyrhinosaurus skull discovered)
- Found the skull in October 2013, but it took a few months to remove the 5 tons of rock to get the skull out
- May be a new species or may be part of the 3 existing ones
- Skull is 6.5 to 8 ft (2-2.5 m) long, and animal was 6 m long, so was very top heavy
- Largest Pachyrhinosaurus species was 26 ft (8 m) long and weighed about 4 tons
- Lived near other dinosaurs including ceratopsians Anchiceratops and Montanoceratops, hadrosaur Edmontosaurus regalis, theropods including Saurornithoides, Saurornitholestes and Troodon, possibly the ornithopod Thescelosaurus and tyrannosaurid Albertosaurus
- Mostly hadrosaurs in the area
- Pachyrhinosaurus had a short tail
- 18-23 ft (5.5-7m) long
- May have been fast, running up to 20 mph
- Had small, primitive hearing apparatus, so probably not very good hearing
- Also reduced olfactory centres, so probably had a poor sense of smell
- Had poor vision too, based on a study of its brain cavity finding a not well developed optic center
- Herbivores, with strong cheek teeth (ate fibrous plants)
- Replaced teeth regularly
- Beak at front of snout, probably cropped vegetation; had rows of teeth
- Probably ate cycads, palms
- May have eaten newly evolved flowering plants
- May have migrated to warmer climates
- May have migrated, following coastal plains, or stayed in the same area. Not sure why they’re found in Alberta and Alaska
- Fossils often found near Edmontosaurus (may have traveled together?)
- May have reached maturity at around 9 years old, based on Gregory Erickson’s and Patrick Druckenmiller’s study of Pachyrhinosaurus femurs (probably only lived to about 19 or 20 years old)
- Pachyrhinosaurus was the official mascot of 2010 Arctic Winter Games because a bonebed was near Grand Prairie Alberta (competition for athletes in the north)
- Pachyrhinosaurus was the star of Walking with Dinosaurs: The Movie in 2013 (featured Patchi and his brother Scowler and their herd
- Pachyrhinosaurus was also in Disney’s Dinosaur in 2000 (awful lot like Land Before Time)
- Pachyrhinosaurus also in the History Channel TV show Jurassic Fight Club
- The Phillip J. Currie Museum opened up in the beginning of September, and in addition to watching documentaries and looking at lifelike skeletons, visitors can build a pachyrhinosaurus with magnets on the wall
- Pachyrhinosaurus is part of the clade Pachyrostra, which is part of the tribe Pachyrhinosaurini, which is part of the family Ceratopsidae, which is part of the clade Marginocephalia
- Marginocephalia means “fringed heads” and includes pachycephalosaurids and horned ceratopsians (all herbivores, with bony ridge or frill at back of the skull)
- Lived in Jurassic and Cretaceous
- Ceratopsidae were quadrupedal herbivores from the Cretaceous, with most living in North America (some in Asia)
- Had beaks, rows of shearing teeth, and horns and grills
- Subfamilies are Chasmosaurinae of Centrosaurinae
- Pachyrhinosaurini was a subfamily of Centrosaurinae
- Fun Fact: The Prince Creek Formation (PCF) of northern Alaska preserves one of the most diverse and prolific assemblages of polar dinosaurs known anywhere in the world. To date, evidence for at least 13 different dinosaurian taxa are known from early Maastrichtian horizons of the unit, including five ornithischians, seven non-avian theropods, and an avialan theropod
For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript of our interview with Christopher:
SABRINA: Thank you Christopher for joining us today.
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: Thank you.
SABRINA: So you’re an archaeology student, but have you ever, well first let’s talk about what’s the difference between archaeology and paleontology?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: Well, I get asked if I dig up dinosaurs more often than I get asked if I dig up ancient people. Actually, I do neither. Archaeologists work on the material remains of the past, but it’s not necessarily even the ancient past. I focus on things from only three hundred years ago in my research, but I still think dinosaurs are cool.
SABRINA: Have you ever considered going into paleontology?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: Yes, absolutely. It was what got me into the mindset of thinking of the past as something that was very material, something that we could find just by going out and looking for it. I wanted to be a paleontologist from when I was three until I was a teenager.
SABRINA: What changed?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN:I went on a paleontology dig and realized that it wasn’t just dinosaurs. It was actually with the Royal Tyrell in the summer programs they do for kids. I was ten, and I’d been told when I was three and I first got interested in dinosaurs that I could go on a dig someday, and my parents looked it up and found that ten was usually the age that they let kids go out and help for a day or two. So I reminded them every birthday that I was one year closer to being able to go on a dinosaur dig, and they found a wonderful program at Royal Tyrell. And when I visited the museum it was on a road trip with my dad. We went all across the country and up to Canada to where Royal Tyrell is in Alberta, and spent a few days going out to the dig and helping apply plaster and use brushes, things that a little kid could do. But we visited Dinosaur National Monument, we went to museums in Montana, it was kind of a dinosaur road trip with my dad which was pretty cool. But at the Royal Tyrell, at the time, and I think it’s still there, there was an exhibit on Burgess shale on Cambrian creatures that I’d never heard of before, and that actually got me thinking: am I interested in just dinosaurs or am I interested in anything that it’s possible to go out and find in an excavation? And so I started re-thinking, and I loved history, so eventually I switched to archaeology.
SABRINA: Do you have a particular focus in archaeology?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN:I do, I do historical archaeology. So things from about three hundred years ago and more recently. I’m really interested in immigration, the movement of people around the world, and the things that they brought with them. I’m also interested in museum archeology and studying the objects that we have already in museums, but discovering more about them. And my love for museums absolutely comes out of wanting to be a paleontologist when I was a kid, and spending hours and hours at the Academy of Sciences when they used to have all the different dinosaur displays, and going to other museums like you said, with my mom or dad.
SABRINA: So since you’re a Berkley student, have you made it to Cal Day when they open up more of their dinosaurs?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN:I have, absolutely. We always do an archaeology section on Cal Day for kids, which is really fun. But afterwards I got to explore the campus and go over to the Valley Life Science Building, and I love that any time you go in you can see the […] (00:03:51) skull and the model T-rex, and that’s really cool. But being able to go back and look at the fossils that they have was great.
GARRET: We gotta go.
SABRINA: Yeah. We need to go, we haven’t made it yet, but one of these days. One of these years. So how did your parents find out about this program at the Royal Tyrell museum?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: That’s a good question. We didn’t have the Internet at the time that they looked it up, which was funny because that’s how I would look it up. I’m not sure actually. They were always really good at fostering whatever I was interested in at the time, and I went through all kinds of phases but dinosaurs really stuck around. So we had videotapes and audiotapes and books and anything dinosaur. The thing that first got me interested was when a friend of the family brought back some plastic dinosaurs from the Natural History Museum in London, and that kind of sparked my interest along with things like the dinosaur scene in Fantasia or, I don’t know, did either of you ever listen to the audio tapes of Dinosaur World? Or Lost In Dinosaur World?
SABRINA: No I haven’t heard that, what is that?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: They were a series of short books that were always accompanied by audio books with sound effects and actors and things that pretended that there was a zoo of dinosaurs. And what it would be like for kids or families to go and visit the dinosaurs. This was before Jurassic Park, and a much tamer idea of what would result from a theme park with live dinosaurs. Mostly they just go and watch, although they get into a few scrapes. But I loved the idea, and actually in that book, in the audio book, at the very beginning one of the characters is, Escape From Dinosaur World, one of the characters is tuning into a radio station called W Dino, and the announcement at the beginning sounds just like the announcement at the beginning of your podcast. W Dino! And so I thought maybe you got inspired by that.
SABRINA: No, but that’s awesome that there’s a connection. We’re going to have to go check that out. So you requested that we cover a Pachyrhinosaurus. Is that your favorite dinosaur, or what’s your connection?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: The Pachyrhinosaurus, I’d never heard of before going to the Royal Tyrell. And it was the dinosaur that was being excavated when my dad and I went out with the paleontologists and got to help out. So it was the first dinosaur that I’d ever seen in a fossil bed being excavated. And so because I got to help out on it, I got to learn more about a dinosaur. And it’s particularly weird. It’s a really strange looking dinosaur. It doesn’t fit the kind of dream-like familiarity that you get with Tyrannosaurus rex or Triceratops. It just looks bizarre and alien, and I love that it was so different from what I expected.
SABRINA: Can you tell us a little about, do you get to help out with the dig at all, or was it more watching, what was day to day life like at this camp?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: We got to help out, we only went out to the dig a couple times. I was ten, and it was the badlands. Digging through solid rock is tough, and I remember having to drink a lot of water and eat a lot of chips in order to get through the day. We were down next to the fossils. We were given brushes, two brushes, and we were cleaning them. Which, to a ten year old, seemed really cool actually, and I know now since we do the same thing in archaeology that even that is really helpful. That it’s not just a pretend task for a kid. That they really are helping on the dig. The program that I remember doing, we went out for most of the day, and then went back for a second day. Looking through the website today, I don’t see something that matches up with my memory. But, then again, I was ten. But I do see that they have dig days, when families can go out, kids go out and do the same thing that I remember for part of the day.
Part of the program was also being given tours of the museum and being able to meet paleontologists, and that was a very memorable part too. Not only seeing the museum but being told how the museum was put together, and a little bit of the history, what the exhibits meant.
SABRINA: Do you remember which paleontologist you got to meet?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: No I don’t. I just thought they were cool, and they had hats and bandanas.
SABRINA: Nice. So would you recommend this camp to kids that were interested in dinosaurs?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: Absolutely. The Royal Tyrell is the best dinosaur museum that I’ve been to. And the fact that they offer camps and they offer courses and all kinds of things is a really great way to not just imagine being able to be involved with paleontology, but really being able to reach out and get involved.
GARRET: Is that where the Dino 101 course was through?
SABRINA: No that’s the University of Alberta.
GARRET: But it’s the same guy, curator.
SABRINA: So Dr. Phil Curry, I don’t know if you’re familiar, is the paleontologist. Yeah and he worked at the Royal Tyrell.
GARRET: He does this free online class called Dino 101, it’s really awesome.
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: I heard about it through podcasts and now I’m interested.
GARRET: It was pretty fun.
SABRINA: Yeah. I think it runs usually around January, so…
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: I’ll look it up.
SABRINA: Yeah. Do you think you’d ever go again to a Royal Tyrell dig or one of these kinds of programs?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: Well, I usually go on digs myself during the summer, but they’re of course they’re archaeology digs, rather than paleontology digs. The skill set is significantly different enough that I’m not sure I would go again for any other reason than to have fun, or if I have a kid someday to bring my kid to do it, because that I would absolutely do. In paleontology, so much of it is an intersection with geology, whereas for my particular area of archeology, because I’m dealing with objects that have survived for reasons other than turning into rock, I don’t have to pay as much attention to the chemistry of geology, the sedimentary layers, and rather I’m just thinking about different deposits in the ground and how the objects fit into those deposits. So theoretically it’s similar, but methodologically it requires a very different set of knowledge. So I don’t think that I would get involved in a paleontology dig professionally since at this point I don’t have the skill set. But I would definitely go back to that kind of program if I was accompanied by a kid.
GARRET: So where do you go digging for archaeology?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: Anywhere. I’ve worked in Turkey, in England, in Hawaii, in the British Virgin Islands, and in California, actually here in San Francisco. Most of those digs I’m helping other people out, so other graduate students in my program, or professors from when I was an undergrad. So, those aren’t my own digs but digs that I’ve been able to participate in.
GARRET: Was all that stuff around that time period you’re interested in? So you’re not really digging in rock and stuff like that, it’s more like dirt?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: We were digging in a combination of dirt, sometimes it was sand, sometimes it was mud, and actually they’re from all different time periods. Turkey was a nine thousand year old city, but we were digging through essentially dried mud. In England I was working on a Roman fort, and a Viking town up in York. Here in California, that’s the time period that I’m most interested in. Gold rush era and more recently. But depending on the soil you’re digging through, preservation can be really different. In San Francisco […] (00:12:53) is anoxic, so it doesn’t let oxygen in which causes material to decay. And so without oxygen, you can pull out material that looks as if it were very dirty, but buried just a few days ago.
GARRET: Yeah that’s very cool.
SABRINA: Do you have any advice for younger people who might be interested in paleontology or archaeology, something along those lines?
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: Like I said earlier, I was really lucky because my parents supported my interests, and did so by finding books and movies and programs like the one at the Royal Tyrell for me to be involved in, and that’s absolutely led to my career now. Obviously not the same career, but very influenced by it. So I would say if you’re interested in something, if you’re interested in dinosaurs or if you’re interested in something else, then kids go for it. But parents, figure out ways that if it’s possible support that interest and see where it goes. It can make a big difference.
SABRINA: Well, thank you so much.
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: Thank you.
SABRINA: Pleasure talking to you.
CHRISTOPHER LOWMAN: Pleasure talking to you too.