In our fourth episode of I Know Dino, we had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Phil Currie, a renowned paleontologist who has contributed so much to paleontology that there’s even a museum named after him. Dr. Currie is also a professor at the University of Alberta, where he teaches the online course Dino 101, which goes over dinosaur appearances and major groups, how fossils are formed and interpreted, how dinosaurs lived, dinosaur origins, and dinosaur extinction, and more.
Dr. Currie has named 25 new dinosaurs and had three named in his honor. He is also famous for a centrosaurus bonebed, hadrosaur nesting sites, and the Canada-China Dinosaur Project, and he has written numerous books.
He started working at the Royal Alberta Museum in 1976, then known as the Provincial Museum of Alberta, and found so many dinosaur bones the museum ran out of storage space. In 1979 he wrote the proposal for what is now the Tyrell Museum, which showcases Alberta’s dinosaurs and has lab facilities, a study center, and massive storage space. In 2005 he took up the Canada Research Chair at the University of Alberta so he could spend more time in the field.
So of course, we were very honored to be able to interview him.
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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Tarbosaurus, which means “Alarming Lizard.”
- Tarbosaurus lived in Asia during the late Cretaceous, about 70 million years ago, and weighed up to 5 tons, was 33-39 feet long, and had 60 teeth (not quite as big as T-rex).
- Like T-rex, Tarbosaurus had small forearms, and in fact had the smallest forearms of all tyrannosaurs.
- Tarbosaurus lived in the Gobi Desert, in southern Mongolia.
- It was large but had a lightweight skeleton.
- Tarbosaurus is more ancient than T-rex, which suggests the genus started in Asia and moved to North America through a land bridge that connected the two continents.
- Fun Fact: Most dinosaurs were herbivores, but the first dinosaurs were carnivores.
See below for the full transcript of our interview with Dr. Phil Currie:
Sabrina: First how did you become interested in Paleontology?
Philip Currie: That’s an interesting story because actually I was one of those kids who liked dinosaurs from the time when I was six years old. And to me it was a box of cereal with a plastic dinosaur in it; that got me hooked. But by the time I was eleven I’d read a book called All About Dinosaurs by Roy Chapman Andrews. Andrews book was really about what it was like to be a Paleontologist or a scientist in the field, and the day I read the book was the day I decided I was going to be a dinosaur paleontologist period, full stop.
Sabrina: That’s great, and I know you’ve done field work in Alberta, Antarctica, the Arctic, Argentina, British Columbia, China, Mongolia. What brings you to those places and what specifically do you look for at those sites?
Philip Currie: Usually it’s an invitation that will take me to a different place, but in some cases of course we want to work there. So for example in Mongolia and China specifically in the Gobi Desert of both countries, the rocks are about the same age as the rocks here in Alberta, and the dinosaurs are very closely related to the ones in Alberta. The difference is that the dinosaurs are preserved in a slightly different way, so even though we’re looking at the same dinosaurs basically they’re preserved differently and so they give different information. So for me to get information about Alberta dinosaurs I had to go work in the Gobi Desert essentially to understand what was going on there so I could better understand what was going on here. And it’s been a very successful program that way.
Sabrina: So what are some of the differences in how it’s preserved?
Philip Currie: Well for example, in Alberta there’s a tendency for the large animals to be very well preserved, but the small animals tend to be very spotty we’ll say. And the reason is of course you have tyrannosaurs running around, and if tyrannosaurs found anything at all, living or dead, they would eat it. And if you happened to be small there wasn’t much left. Secondly I think that the environment was such that the rivers were quite strong, and they would cut into the riverbanks and undercut skeletons and rework the bones and so on, and if you happened to be a thick animal where the bones are heavy they’ll just fall to the bottom of the stream and they get buried there they’ll stay more or less in association, but the small ones get busted up pretty badly by the river and get washed downstream. So it’s not that the bones aren’t there, just that the skeletons aren’t there. So that’s kind of a normal preservation here in Alberta, small dinosaurs were very rare. And in the case of Mongolia it’s almost the opposite. What happens is that the environment was slightly different. It was semi-arid to arid environment, very often the small specimens got buried in the sand dunes rather than the rivers, and as a consequence of that these skeletons tend to stay together, so we wanted to look at the, say the anatomy of dromaeosaurid here in Alberta, dromaeosaurid include velociraptor. We’ve never found a complete one in Alberta before, but if you go to Mongolia then of course you can see a complete specimen of velociraptor, then you can understand what all the skeletal bones look like. And then you come back to Alberta and then identify all those isolated bones that we have which are very hard to identify otherwise, never seen them before.
Sabrina: Is Mongolia kind of the best place to go for you for excavation or is it your favorite?
Philip Currie: After Alberta, I mean Alberta is my favorite because it’s my backyard and I can go outside and I collect dinosaurs actually less than ten kilometers from here. Theoretically I should be able to find them about a hundred meters from here, but the reality is that when we compared other areas Mongolia has a different kind of preservation as I mentioned, but you get a lot of big skeletons preserved too. And the thing is you can almost go out every day in Mongolia and find a new dinosaur skeleton. Here it takes a little more time to do that. We have more bones overall but skeletons, they have more skeletons. So it’s a good balance.
Sabrina: So I read the Dino Games book, and well just quickly, it mentioned your wife Eva’s a paleobotanist and a paleontologist. So you work very closely together, and does she go on all the digs with you and everything?
Philip Currie: Eva gets to come on all the digs with me which is fantastic. It’s certainly good to have a different perspective when you’re looking at fossil resources because you know in the reality is we’re interested in all fossils, even though I may specialize in theropod dinosaurs I do work on anything that I find essentially because it’s all interesting and it’s all useful for somebody in terms of trying to figure out maybe the […](00:05:34) environments or the ecosystem or whatever. And in her case because she works on fossil plants and pollen and spores, pollen and spores are very good actually for identifying the level that these bones come from and what age they are. And consequently she has a different perspective, and that helps. The other good thing for me though is that it doesn’t take her very long to collect her specimens, and then she has to help me.
Sabrina: Your area of expertise is theropods, origin of birds, dinosaur migration patterns and herding behavior. What led you to focus on these things?
Philip Currie: Well I’m very interested in sort of the biology of dinosaurs in general, and for the theropod dinosaurs it’s kind of a natural, you know the plastic dinosaur I really wanted when I was a kid was tyrannosaurus rex and we get tyrannosaurus rex here. So it’s something I can go and find, but also the relatives of tyrannosaurus rex. The origin of birds came in kind of sideways because I never thought I could ever say anything about the origin of birds initially simply because beds in Alberta are Cretaceous in age. They’re probably thirty or forty million years after birds first appeared. So they’re too late in time really one would think to tell you much about the origin of birds. But in fact it ended up taking a very interesting twist because some of the small meat eating dinosaurs here, things like troodon and dromaeosaurus, these are very birdlike in a lot of ways and when I was educated at University, main ideas were that birds probably did not come from dinosaurs. Birds probably came from crocodiles or thecodonts or maybe some other group. But the more I looked at these meat eating dinosaurs from the late Cretaceous the more I realized how bird like they were, including to very very small details such as the placement of nerves and holes in the skull that you wouldn’t expect unless there was some kind of relationship. Also because of our work in China we had contacts there, and I ended up being invited to work on several of the species of feathered dinosaurs in China, and this has come around full circle now because we’re finding feathered dinosaurs here in Alberta. Even though they’re late Cretaceous in age, they’re theropod dinosaurs, and they are very bird like. And there’s a lot we can learn about say the structure and evolution of feathers by looking at our late Cretaceous feathers as well.
Sabrina: I also read you worked with computer models to learn more about dinosaurs, and I know it, I took the class Dino 101 and I saw it had a few interactive elements which was really cool. Do they help to shed light on dinosaur behavior?
Philip Currie: Computer modeling is the kind of thing that you don’t expect dinosaur people to do, right? But the beauty of it is that dinosaur bones very often are very heavy, they’re massive, they’re fragile, they’re very hard to handle in your hands so you can’t manipulate things all that easy. I mean it’s not like we don’t have ways to do it. We do we can cast them and turn them into light plastic and then play with them that way. But it’s a lot easier just to scan specimens or CG scan specimens and then digitize them on a computer. And then we’ll be able to manipulate the bones. And very often it doesn’t tell you exactly what the dinosaur was doing with the say leg bones, but what it does give you is a range of possibilities. So it shows how far they can stretch their legs for example, or how far they could fold their legs up. And then that’ll give you some information and then you work on the premise that somewhere in between is probably the reality. And once you do enough of this kind of work things start to fall together and start to constrain each other, each one of these models that we do, and consequently you do I think end up with a pretty realistic idea of what the animals were capable of. Certainly it’s a good way to do say limb models or biomechanics where we’re looking at say how jaws closed and how they chewed things. But the CT scans and the computer modeling also help us with internal anatomy so for example the brain case of a dinosaur, we can CT scan a skull. Doesn’t show the brain cavity itself, but from the CT scans we can then get the information on the brain cavity and then we can see where the nerves were running and that helps us interpret how the animal was living, how they were interacting, what they were capable of and all those things. So it’s pretty amazing what computer modeling has done for paleontology over the last twenty years in particular, and as I said it’s very often we can’t get a definite answer but we can approach much closer to reality by doing the modeling.
Sabrina: So do you use this technique a lot now?
Philip Currie: Well I’m still an old style paleontologist where I prefer to go out into the field and collect things. Do the preparation and do the description. And I do some computer modeling and I work with computer models but it’s something that we’ve made sure that our students understand better because it’s becoming progressively more important for them to be able to do that. You know at this stage I would say there were quite a few dinosaurs that we have the digitized information on skeletons for, and of course we can make that information available for other researchers anywhere in the world. But we still don’t have everything available and as time goes on and more and more of these digitized skeletons become available for people to work with and of course it’s going to become progressively more important for their work, so we make sure our students understand the stuff very well and they do a lot of computer modeling. As well of course we still drag them into the field and make them find specimens and collect them and do the basic research on them. And because that’s also very important to us.
Sabrina: So I just wanted to bring up Dino 101 a little bit, and it’s a free course open to anyone who wants to join, no prerequisites, and after reading the book Dino Games I got the sense that you’re very open and inviting with your work. So what made you decide to create this course?
Philip Currie: Well I can’t take credit for it because it was the Dean of Science of the University of Alberta who first brought it to our attention that we could do this kind of thing. And of course my first question was, what’s a mooc? I asked him why an open course, and I had no idea. It always seemed to me that this was an important way that the science was going because so many people are interested in dinosaurs and I get contacted all the time by emails or letters or people phoning or showing up in my office or whatever. So there’s no question that the appetite is out there, and seemed to me that this was a new area for teaching and what we wanted there was make sure that it was also something we could incorporate in the university system. So out of Dino 101 we also have two courses at the university. One which is called Paleo 200, and the other one which is called Paleo 201. 200 is just the Dino 101 course essentially except people pay tuitions and they take exams and they get graded on it. So 201 goes beyond that where we have field trips, special lectures and so on. So it supplements the basic course itself. What we wanted to do of course is in the university see if in fact we could turn this course into a basic introductory course so that people could move on from the introductory course into other courses in paleontology. And I wasn’t sure how that was going to work, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work to the general public with Dino 101 either. It’s just one of those things that you take a chance on, you believe in that you know there’s tremendous potential to it but whether or not you’ll ever realize that potential is another matter. I would have to say it succeeded on all levels that, you know, we have close to fifty thousand students now with Dino 101. It has the best record for people completing the course because a lot of people they sample mooc courses but they don’t actually complete them. And also there are lots of logistics that are quite interesting. You know people tend to think that it’s little boys who like dinosaurs but the reality is we’ve impacted more girls who take the course, so it’s quite interesting that way too. It really was something that we thought probably would work. We had no idea how it was going to work. And it’s been a great education for me to see that even though the course was really aimed at being for a first year university student, or a higher level high school students, in reality we had people as young as six years old go through the course and you know with the help of their parents for some of the things they’ve managed to do very well. And so it takes the lid off what you think you can do. Our oldest student I think was well into her eighties, so it’s reached a lot of people and taught us a lot about education as well.
Sabrina: Ah ya, that’s a big range. How often does the course run?
Philip Currie: We run the course twice a year right now, and so we’ll start in September and then they’ll start again in January most years. That’s been the pattern so far. We may up it to three times a year, we’re not really sure yet. We’re back in the process of developing another level of the course per se which we’re tentatively calling Dino 102, and that’ll be more specialized than Dino 101. So for example I’ll spend a lot of time talking about the origin of the birds from theropod dinosaurs. So we’ll see how that goes too.
Sabrina: Oh wow. So you know I’ll take that class.
Philip Currie: Good.
Sabrina: So there’s a lot of interactive elements in Dino 101. You’ve got video lessons, images, but there’s let’s see the 3D fossil exploring environment where you arrange bones online, and the interactive timeline that tells us about the different ages on earth. How did you and your team come up with these elements?
Philip Currie: Well we have a lot of creative thinkers including our old graduate students who work in paleontology. Everybody’s got different experiences and different ways of approaching things and so fundamentally this has been a team effort where we sit down, we brainstorm and come up with ideas. Some of the ideas don’t work as well as we’d like them to, we replace them with other ideas and so on. But you know the interactive museum idea in particular I really like because it’s something we’re doing anyway and I we’re taking bones and we are as I mentioned digitizing them, and we’re using them for computer modeling. And so one of the real disadvantages of course with an online course is that people can’t handle the actual flows. They can’t go to a laboratory and pick them up and look at these fossils. But by doing the digitized models online then of course that does give people an opportunity to see these things from all sides, even though it’s a computer model, never the less it’s the same kind of thing that we would work on when we’re doing computer model so there’s something to be learned from that. Some of these things have really worked very well for us and other ones we’re still looking at new ideas, new ways of doing it.
Sabrina: According to Dino Games you are a dino hunter, what does that mean?
Philip Currie: Dino hunters are people who go out and hunt fossils of course, and in my case I’m specifically looking for dinosaurs. And whether I’m hunting dinosaurs in my home city of Edmonton or whether I’m in fact working in Antarctica or the arctic there’s a lot of work involved in going out and finding dinosaur bones. They don’t just suddenly appear in front of you or you just can’t walk right up to them and there they are in most cases. In most cases you have to spend a lot of time walking and hunting. And so for example a normal day in Dinosaur Provincial Park would be for us to get up early in the morning and start walking and walk all day looking for fossils. We’ll find fossils all the time but in terms of important fossils, things that are really unique, you have to walk a long long time. So on average in spite of the fact that Dinosaur Park has produced over eight hundred skeletons over the years, when you look at the amount of manpower that’s put into finding those eight hundred skeletons it works out to about four man weeks for each one. So four man weeks means you’re walking four weeks without finding anything else. It’s not quite that simple of course but it still shows you that there is in fact a lot of work involved in finding things. We go to a lot of places like the Arctic and the Antarctic, sometimes we’re walking up to twelve or sixteen hours a day and you don’t find a single scrap of bone of anything. And yet at the end of the expedition you may have found something that is only a single bone, which if in Alberta frankly we would probably ignore because it’s not that important, but in the Arctic or the Antarctic that’s an identifiable bone that tells you what animals were in fact living in that area, and it becomes a very important specimen. And you put a lot of effort into finding it or hunting for it.
Sabrina: Right. So in Antarctica or the Arctic did you set off on those expeditions expecting to find something or did you have like a tip or something, how did you end up there?
Philip Currie: The arctic was no tip. We knew that dinosaur bones had been found in some cases before. These are just isolated bones that were found fortuitously by say geologists or somebody doing biology on polar bears or whatever. So the arctic, we didn’t have any clues other than the fact that we knew the rocks were the right age and the potential was there of finding dinosaur bones. So that was an interesting story because we went up there first in 1986, and we looked and looked and looked and we didn’t get anything yet for something like six weeks. And the following year there was an Inuit boy out there with a geologist, and he found a dinosaur bone. And of course once he found it then we knew okay the area he was was maybe a couple hundred kilometers away from where we were. So we went back in 89, went to the place where he found those bones, and that bone, that initial bone, we found lots more dinosaur bones. So you always have to take the chance sometimes with these sites. Antarctic was a little bit different though because in 1990 a geologist was basically measuring a section […](00:21:15) of the rocks on a mountainside, which is pretty much the center of Antarctica. And he found dinosaur bones, and so in 1990 the specimen was found, it was partly excavated but of course the conditions are very difficult, it’s very expensive to work there. So we were able to go with a party in something like thirteen years after the specimen was found initially to try and collect the rest of the skeleton. And that was an absolutely amazing experience for working six hundred kilometers from the South Pole and four thousand meters, about eleven thousand feet above sea level. And so it was cold. And, but we got another part of the skeleton, about a third of the skeleton out and we finally went back 2010 and finished the job finally, and in the process of doing that we got to look around a little bit, we found several more dinosaur skeletons in the same area. So it was a matter of getting to the area first. Once we’re in the area then we started to get better luck and get better specimens. So it’s always this combination and sometimes you’re very lucky and like somebody from the general public was walking their dog at one site in Edmonton, and just happened to find a dinosaur. Brings it to our attention and we realize that hey, this is a cool site. So we go up and check it and sure enough.
Sabrina: In the book it sounded like your focus is on carnivores and specifically Tarbosaurus that… okay.
Philip Currie: Albertosaurus sarcophagus is in fact a dinosaur a dinosaur, it’s very closely related to tyrannosaurus rex. Here in Alberta we have another one called daspletosaurus, and the three animals form this little sub-family group that each one of those is very closely related to each other. Tarbosaurus is a very interesting one though. It’s found in the Gobi Desert, and where it’s found it’s a dominant animal. It’s the most common dinosaur we find there. That doesn’t make any sense, because when you think about it you can’t have more lions than antelope. Basically they have to eat and if they have to eat there has to be enough food for them. So normally what happens is the carnivores only make up about five percent of any fauna. That’s true here in say Alberta where most of our tyrannosaurs are pretty rare animals. There’s only one of those for every twenty or so plant eating dinosaurs. But in Mongolia it’s fifty-fifty. That doesn’t really compute. Something else is going on there. So it’s a very interesting problem to try and figure out why we get so many Tarbosaurus skeletons in Mongolia. We’re talking maybe between seventy and a hundred skeletons now that we know of from Mongolia. And that’s the same number that we have of duck-billed dinosaurs and horn dinosaurs and armor dinosaurs and so on. All those animals put together only make up the same thing and the same amount as tarbosaurs. We know it’s got something to do with some kind of preservational bias though. There’s something selectively preserving more tarbosaurs than anything else. And we know that because the same beds almost will produce footprints. And the footprint sightings are very different, because even though they’re interspersed with where we find the skeletons, when we look at the number of footprints, Tarbosaurus is only about five percent of the animals. So the footprints are telling us this is a normal ecosystem, the skeletons are telling us this is not normal. And we have a few ideas, you know, for example it’s quite possible that Tarbosaurus was a very effective carnivore that ate just about everything there was to eat of any animal, but it didn’t leave much evidence of the plant eating dinosaurs it was eating. We know that Tarbosaurus, like tyrannosaurus rex, had these massive teeth and bone-crunching jaws that were probably unbelievable in terms of what they can do and process. And we had a very interesting trip many years ago to Komodo National Park in Indonesia to look at komodo dragons and how they function. And we witnessed a large pig and wild boar, both the same size as a komodo dragon, which was eaten by nine komodo dragons who completely dismembered it. They ate everything, absolutely everything, even the hair. Completely gone in less than twenty minutes.
Philip Currie: And there was nothing left, nothing but the smell. But it was a great education too because I never realized that komodo dragons could do that kind of thing, and they don’t have the kind of teeth that say something like Tarbosaurus had. Tarbosaurus had teeth that really were as well adapted as say a hyena is today in terms of eating animals. So that’s certainly one possibility for explaining it. The only thing is you know, okay well why does it happen there, and why doesn’t it happen here? Why isn’t tyrannosaurus rex doing the same thing? So these little puzzles are very interesting and it’s fun to develop a theory or a hypothesis and go out and see if you can find evidence to support it or refute it. And that’s a big part of our fun now and we basically paleontologists are detectives. You know we’re looking at these crime scenes and are sixty or a hundred million years old and we’re trying to figure out what happened. And it’s a lot of fun, it’s great, a great mental process trying to work these things out while working with fascinating animals all by themselves.
Sabrina: So I know one of your theories is that dinosaurs may have lived in gangs. Could you elaborate a little bit on that?
Philip Currie: Sure, and you know Alberta here we have these fantastic sites all over the province in fact where you know we don’t find whole skeletons per se, what we find are bone beds. And in the bone beds we have remains of many individuals where all the bones have fallen apart, essentially the skeletons have fallen apart and the bones have become mixed together. So you sometimes can’t tell which bones belong to which individuals. However, some of these bone beds are dominated by single species of animals. I started working on this in the 1970s and realized that all certainly when I put all my time into it at that time is was a ceratopsidae involved and were more than seventy ceratopsium or horned animals had died in the same place at the same time. And the only way I’m able to explain this was that these animals were living together at the time of their death, and they were probably living together up to the time of their death. And this implied that these animals in fact had a social structure. We’ve now had a tremendous amount of evidence of these horned dinosaurs travelling in herds. We have herds in Dinosaur Park now that seem to represent mass death sites, so thousands of animals. And in other parts of the world like Montana we now know that duck billed dinosaurs have signs which strongly suggests these animals were moving in very large herds as well. Alaska as well has evidence of herds. Here in Edmonton, ten kilometers from my house we have a herd of edmontosaurus, one of the biggest duck billed dinosaurs. And so on and so on. So we know, I think we’re pretty sure that the plant-eating dinosaurs prior to the late Cretaceous were in fact herding animals and probably migrating animals as well. Now the thing is that if you look at a modern ecosystem where you have large herds of herbivores, you almost invariably have packs of carnivores as well. And that’s because the herbivores are ganging together in part so that they can protect themselves from the carnivores. That’s good for the herbivores, it’s not good for the carnivores. Carnivores need to eat, so basically they work out little social structures as well. So if you go to the African veldt for example, lions which are very closely related to tigers, lions are very specific social structures. And that’s because they move in groups or prides or family groups, and they hunt together and they’re going after of course herds of antelope, herds of zebra, herds of other things. So there’s a strong association between herds and packs or herds and prides. Same thing in North America with herds of caribou and packs of wolves, for example. You always see these kind of things.
Now for a long time in dinosaurs we knew that we have these enormous herds of duckbilled dinosaurs, enormous herds of horned dinosaurs, but we didn’t have any evidence for the carnivores doing the same thing. But a curious thing happened in that when I was doing some museum searching at one point I found about a 1910 Barnum Brown who on his very first expedition to collect dinosaurs in Alberta found the site where there were all these tyrannosaurs that were living together or had died together. And he had parts of nine skeletons of the tyrannosaurus, albertasaurus from one single place. And that got me pretty excited so we dug up whatever it is we could to help us re-find the site, and there was a photograph luckily, and that one photograph in the end led to the discovery of the site that Brown had excavated in 1910. Well Brown had only excavated part of the skeleton, and he in fact had lost a lot of it in the ground sill, so we took the number from nine animals to more than twenty animals in the one bowl bed. And this is a place where we have tyrannosaurs and we have a few duck-bill dinosaur bones, but they seem to be almost ancillary, they’re just there by accident. They were washed in by the river, and they’re not articulated animals. So suddenly we had this evidence that suggests that at least some tyrannosaurs moved together in packs. And we started looking at other tyrannosaur sites to see if in fact there was evidence of other tyrannosaurs were doing the same thing as albertasaurus. And Tarbosaurus in Mongolia, one of the reasons we may have so many animals there and why they outnumber all the plant eating dinosaurs as well is because maybe these things in fact were also moving in packs, and what we’re finding in Mongolia are remnants of these packs that got trapped by some natural process and killed multiple individuals. So right now I think I feel pretty strongly about the fact that we have packs of meat eating dinosaurs that are in fact hunting herds of plant eating dinosaurs.
Sabrina: Is that a widely accepted theory?
Philip Currie: Well it’s very interesting because of course when we first proposed that we had a herd horn dinosaurs, everybody was very much against that. Everybody was saying that dinosaurs were just typical reptiles, and reptiles today don’t usually move in any kind of social groupings. So there was a lot of resistance to that initially, but the thing is that we got so much evidence, there was so many places in Alberta where we had these herds of horn dinosaurs, or between Montana and Alberta where we had these herds of duck bill dinosaurs and subsequent to that of course we found lots of sites, of footprint sites where we have other types of dinosaurs too, including the giant sauropods, who live in groups. So all the evidence eventually became so overwhelming that I think the majority of people accept it just by the, this tidal wave of information that was being collected worldwide. With the carnivores you’re dealing with animals that are much rarer, and consequently you have a much lower chance of finding groupings like this. But now we have quite a few sites that are doing the same kind of thing. So I would say the idea is new enough that there’s still quite a bit of resistance to the idea, but I think as time goes on and people look into it more and try and prove or disprove it, it doesn’t matter which, you do in fact collect evidence that’s going to show what reality was like. And right now I would say that the shift is coming towards people accepting more of the idea that these animals did move in groups.
Sabrina: So I know you’ve collaborated such as with the Korea Mongolia International Dinosaur Project. Do you find that you learn more from working in teams, or more on your own? Which do you prefer?
Philip Currie: I kind of like both, but the reality is with you know small projects you can do those by yourself. But when you’re dealing with something that potentially has a tremendous amount of information that you can gather together or where you need different kinds of sciences or people with different kinds of expertise to work together, then the larger projects work better as teams. Paleogeology like all of the sciences becomes much more multi-disciplinary and multinational over the years, and we find that ya we may still do individual projects, but I think that the majority of the projects we’re working with you want to make some true breakthroughs, then it’s really good to work together as a group. There’s some real advantages in that.
Sabrina: If you had a wish list of finds what would be at the top of it?
Philip Currie: Oh my wish list would probably be troodon. Troodon’s a… was first found in 1854, if you believe it. A single tooth in Montana. And after a long time we had no idea what troodon was. It was a small theropod dinosaur for some people. For other people it was a lizard. For other people it was a plant eating dinosaur, we really had no idea. But in the 1980s we in fact found a jaw here in Alberta which proved that troodon was a carnivorous dinosaur. Turned out to be another dinosaur that we had called Styracosaurus which turned out was the brainiest dinosaur we knew of. Largest known brain. This is an animal where the brain at, for its body size, is about six times the size of a crocodile of the same body size. It’s an animal that has binocular vision, like us. It sees things in three dimensions. It had hands that could manipulate things. It had very long legs that were built for speed. It’s a runner. And now we know from assessments in Mongolia and China that this is in fact a feathered dinosaur as well. And probably the dinosaur that’s most closely related to birds. Now the curious thing is that after all these years we still find bits and pieces of this dinosaur but we have never found a whole skeleton, and so for me I would just love to find a whole skeleton just to know that all the things that we put together over the years, all of the evidence in fact is correct.
Sabrina: My last question is, what advice would you give to budding paleontologists, or people who are just enthusiastic about dinosaurs?
Philip Currie: Well of course there’s many ways to be enthusiastic about dinosaurs, there are many people who specialize in dinosaurs in very different ways. And of course not everybody likes to research, not everybody likes to do field work, not everybody likes to work in dusty collections in an old museum. Some people like to do things on computer modeling and everything, there’s just so many ways you can work on dinosaurs, and if you want to become a research paleontologist you really have to go the whole mile. You have to go through your schooling, you have to try and get a doctorate eventually, you have to publish research papers, be good at writing and illustration, at finding things and all the rest of it. I mean there’s a lot of things involved, but there are also people who like dinosaurs who only go as far as becoming say collections managers. They don’t do much research, they’re more interested in just handling and dealing in fossils themselves. Or becoming technicians where they’re doing preparation on dinosaurs. I love doing preparation but I never have time to do preparation because I spend most of my time of course writing and things like that. There’s other people who are in fact artists who specialize in nothing but dinosaurs. There’s three in Alberta alone who are world famous artists who do nothing but work on the dinosaurs. So there’s many ways to skin a cat, and it’s basically you have to decide exactly what you want, and you have to then find the way to do it. The mechanism to do it. In my case it was a matter of even as a high school student I was going to people who were already paleontologists and asking them what I needed to do in terms of my course work to get into the university and specialize in dinosaurs especially. In other cases of course if you’re an artist and you want to do it that way then you approach art school, see what you can do that way. But main thing is don’t be afraid to talk to people, because everybody in the field whether you’re a research scientist or an artist who specializes in dinosaurs, they’re very willing to talk to people and see them develop a preference for your career.
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