This is going to be an irregular series of posts on places I’ve traveled to in order to study, dig or just see dinosaurs. Geological field trips may be included, too, and the stories and pictures will not be limited to dinosaurs, so that other nice, boring, interesting, stupid, funny or weird stuff will be included.
I’ll start this with a short post on the greatest, funniest, most successful and overall best combined holiday / field trip I ever had. This trip took me to the US, where I spent some time in NY (most at that icon of a natural history museum, the AMNH), then went camping all across Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, with a short detour into South Dakota. The final four weeks took me to a tiny town at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains, where I took part in excavating a dinosaur bonanza. What more can you wish for?
The trip took place in 2003, when I was little inexperienced doctoral student. The main focus of my studies was the Psittacosaurus material from Mongolia. The AMNH holds the holotype of P. mongoliensis and a second wonderful skeleton of the same species (holotype of Protiguanodon, a junior synonym of Psittacosaurus), as well as a number of other specimens, including some baby skulls.
Yeah, wonderful little critters…. (stinkin’ ornithischians!)
Anyways, I was shown around the collections by the much-suffering Carl Mehling – Carl, if you read this: THANK YOU VERY MUCH INDEED! Then and several times since, including last April, Carl has been a tremendously kind, helpful, knowledgeable and patient curator. Back then things were especially bad, because he couldn’t even simply turn me loose in the exhibition. The digital camera I had, owned by the museum in Tübingen, ran through batteries really fast, so that I had to be fetched, taken back to Carl’s office where I would switch batteries and plug the empty ones into the charger, then taken back to the exhibition, and that about every 45 minutes. Worse still: there was some construction going on and some of the shortest and best routes were blocked. Poor Carl! By this spring, they had sorted out the access cards at AMNH, and I was able to operate all the required doors and elevators – much better!
Then, as now, the AMNH dinosaur exhibits (and, admittedly, the stinkin’ mammals and all the other stuff) were awesome! Even this April, visiting them for the fourth time I was in heaven. Back in 2003, however, it was my first professional visit, whereas the previous one had been a meager one-day stint as a mere tourist. Thus, I finally had time to wander through each and every room, look at each and every specimen, and then come back the next day for another, closer look. I had time not only to study the specimens, but the setup of the exhibit, to see how to do things and how not to do them. And overall I was quite impressed. Partly that was caused by the sheer number and the enormous quality of the exhibit specimens, but even now, after I have seen several other museums, I have to say: the AMNH not only set a trend with its revamping of the dinosaur halls, it also managed to create one of the best examples without the benefit of learning from other places’ mistakes!
OK, I guess you all have seen a gazillion photos of the AMNH dinos, so I’ll limit myself here to some rarer and often ignored specimens, or stuff that I can tell some story about.
Stegosaurus stenops AMNH 650 from Bone Cabin Quarry
That’s one of them mounds that made a lasting impression on me. You may laugh now, and shake your head in disbelief: Heinrich impressed by a non-sauropod? But yeah, a stegosaur with erect forelimbs, that was at my first visit news to me, and it started me thinking about stegosaur biomechanics. Even in 2003 it was a magnet for my attention.
Psittacosaurus mongoliensis skull AMNH 6535 (baby) and life-sized model of adult.
Pretty cool, the baby skulls on exhibit. Today, baby dinosaurs aren’t that much of a sensation anymore, because a lot of eggs, embryos and hatchlings have been found. Still, having such a precious thing on exhibit – cool! And, to be honest, I was pretty pround of that shot of the two heads 😉
But there’s obviously more of the babies than just the skulls on exhibit. There are a lot of pieces in the collection of AMNH 6536, and it is I guess time that I start showing you some stuff that not everybody gets to see.
Psittacosaurus mongoliensis skull AMNH 6536 (baby) articulated partial limb
Psittacosaurus mongoliensis skull AMNH 6536 (baby) slightly disarticulated
anterior trunk (verts, ribs, scapula, coracoid)
Oh, right, I should show that baby skull now, too! Here ya go!
Psittacosaurus mongoliensis skull AMNH 6536 (baby) skull and
fragments (more tiny pieces were in a box). Capliper tips are 20 mm apart (and yes, I have scales for the otehr pics, too – comment if you want them).
OK, ’nuff for now, there’ll be a lot more to show from this one visit to AMNH, and all the rest of the trip. Stay tuned!