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NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
15 Dec 1998

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NPR Radio Expeditions
Dr. Hans Sues with Chris Joyce
12/15/98

Begins in mid conversation

CJ
00:00:37 Have you found that things have changed?

HS
00:00:38 Oh, very much so! I mean now I've been now in the business of university teaching for 15 years and things have changed really dramatically. The students now come in and they see this as a service industry. That they paid, they are paying customers and they demand customer satisfaction since that they want to be entertained and we find more for the introductory courses that you have to have a sort of entertaining quality.

CJ
00:01:06 Do you think that's new? 00:01:07

HS
00:01:08 Well, yeah. Because in the past people were really, I've seen it over those 15 years. People were really more concerned with learning something that would advance their career but now, no. The attention spans have become so short. They were never really long but now they're even shorter.

CJ
00:01:27 One word explanation for that, television.

(Unrelated asides)

CJ
00:02:37 Tell me a bit about what you do at Toronto. 00:02:39

HS
00:02:40 I'm a curator for The ---- Museum and also teach zoology at the university.

CJ
00:02:51 You've done work all over¿ You switched from geology to biology. Is that what you have to do to do paleontology? 00:03:08

HS
00:03:10 Well you can¿ Since I started out in Europe I came to paleontology through geology rather than biology but my interests are more biological that's why when the chance came up I jumped all over it.

CJ
00:03:23 What's your point of view on the century on paleontology. Give me a pocket history of this century and what we've learned about dinosaurs. 00:03:50

HS
00:03:50 See, dinosaurs only go back about 200 years. The actual formal naming of dinosaurs occurred in 1842 when it was realized that there were some very unusual large extinct reptiles out there that really didn't fit neatly into the classification based on the reptiles that are alive today. There were some things that were vaguely similar reptiles to crocodilians which are in some ways close relatives still. But there were some anatomical features that were more birdlike and you sort of had to¿ fearfully great reptiles which is where the name dinosaura comes from. After the sort of initial discovery of dinosaurs in Europe and Europe has never yielded that many dinosaur fossils compared to other regions of the world, the next big breakthrough of the 19th century was the opening of the American West and the discovery of just countless dinosaurs fossils. And it really, North America really put dinosaurs on the map. Basically you went through this sort of early founding period and then you went into what some people call the Heroic period which went into the1920's when you had big organized expeditions going into either territories that were the colonies of various countries or going into areas where people were really were just still trying to fill in the white spots on the map. From the famous North American Museum of Natural History Expeditions to the Gobi Desert which were then described actually as the new conquest of central Asia. But then starting in the 1930's, more or less coinciding with the Great Depression there just suddenly this sort of loss of interest in dinosaurs. And basically between 1930 and 1970 was a very quiet period. There were still a few people around the world describing new dinosaurs. Some really interesting efforts particularly in Asia to get dinosaur material. Like discoveries in China which showed us that China to this day, is one of the great treasure houses of dinosaur remains. But really was between 1930 and 1970 very little happened. It is what some people have called the "Quiet Period".

CJ
00:06:05 Why? 00:06:06

HS
00:06:06 And then.. people were just not, I mean there was a Great Depression which made it very hard to get research funds and then WWII broke out and this became a global calamity and a lot of people that otherwise would have been out finding dinosaurs were out fighting each other and then after the war it just somehow never really retook. In fact, the only sort of really noteworthy effort at that time was a lot of work going on in China mostly as a result of one researcher. He had special political connections. He was good friends with Mao Tse Tung and was allowed to do this rather, what became later known as bourgeoisie science in China and then there were the first Russian expeditions into Mongolia which basically picked up where the American Museum had left off in the late 1920's. But there were two things that around 1970. There was a young fresh undergraduate at Yale University Robert T. Barker (?) who totally revolutionized of how we though about dinosaurs. As these active, warm-blooded social creatures fairly intelligent creatures that did all these complex things. As opposed to the traditional image of dinosaurs as overgrown lizards that were essentially doomed to extinction from the start. ¿ Which is still sort of the.. of cartoonists to this day. Along with a desert island, dinosaurs are sort of the staple of any cartoonist repertoire. And then at the same time one of Barker's old professor's, John Austen (?) discovered this absolutely fantastic new dinosaur which became known as Dinonocus (?), the real villain in Jurassic Park was not an animal Velocia raptor, which is actually a small cousin of Dinonocus, but is actually based more on something like Dinonocus. He was a creature that just could not be understood in traditional dinosauren terms. It was the creature had really long fingers armed with huge claws It had the second toe of it's foot changed into this lethal slashing weapon. So it's sort of this bizarre mixture, in popular culture terms, a kickboxer and Freddy Kruger from Nightmare on Elm Street. And this creature was apparently running around and hunting in packs. We had in the initial discovery by John Austen in the Big Horn Basin was of several skeleton of this dinosaur associated with those of a much larger animal of prey animal that apparently this animal had been bringing down. And when you looked at this there was no way that this was a cold-blooded sluggish animal. These were active, hunting creatures. And somehow the sort of conjunction of Barker's new ideas with this actual discovery of a dinosaur that was, could not be imagined in traditional terms, really got people really interested again and then suddenly people went all over the world, into areas where we had anecdotal evidence that there were dinosaurs, somebody had found a few toe bones, or a vertebra, usually a geologist looking for Uranium in ¿ or somebody mapping the salt flats of central Asia and found dinosaur bones. So people systematically went through the old literature and came up with all these places to go and look and that's what we have been doing ever since. And this has been paying off very handsomely. We have now, on average, 7 or 8 new dinosaurs a year.

CJ
00:09:29 You make it sound like so much fun.00:09:30

HS
00:09:30 Oh, it is! It's the great. Just to be very blunt about it it's the greatest thing that I can imagine doing. I mean, it's sort of like the heady excitement that an archeologist has finding a new civilization. You are out there you uncover something like this. Something that no one has seen for like 60, 100, 200 million years and you are the first.. being to look at this and just discover all this. It's just like a, it's almost
a religious experience as some of my colleagues have described it. And even though I'm not a very religious man I certainly sort of endorse the fact that there's an almost spiritual quality to this.

CJ
00:10:11 What does it take to be good at 00:10:13

HS
00:10:14 Well. There are a number of things. First of all, it's really an exercise in serendipity. You can have a well organized expedition. You can go to an area were the rocks look right and everything looks fine and you can spend 4 or 5 weeks wandering around and you don't find a scrap of bone. And then you ask yourself, "Why am I doing this?" and then you find one bone and like all of this is forgotten and you are back in the swing of things and when you then actually do find something that is completely new, that no one has ever seen you just are like "Oh, these 3 or 4 weeks of sweating here, fighting off bugs, fighting off bad food, bad water, in some cases less than friendly native populations, dealing with endless government red tape, are actually worth it" And at that moment you think there is nothing out there that I rather would do than this.

CJ
00:11:11 What dinosaurs have told us about evolution? 00:11:21

HS
00:11:22 Well, there are a number of things. First of all dinosaurs are intriguing in that they are a large, very complex, organism. We have a record of this group spending over 140 million years, from the fossil record actually if you include modern birds which are direct descendants, a record that goes to the present day. They show us how over time you have these various diversifications of different types of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs adapting to new environments. You almost have sort of a case book of evolutionary stories. Things becoming extinct. Things diversifying in response to a new food resource becoming available. For instance, ¿ suggested that the first appearance of flowering plants late in Jurassic or early in the Cretaceous period triggered this incredible radiation of all these plant eating dinosaurs like duck-billed dinosaurs and horned-dinosaurs and literally sometimes you find herds of these in the thousands. Occasionally we get a --- where we find such a whole herd, so basically it's this really grand story. It's like in history the story of empires. You see a succession of empires. You see empires collapsing, new empires arising, being wiped out by a natural calamity, the calamity of a sort new species coming in, leading to an extinction. You see dinosaurs against the background of the moving earth. The continental configurations during the age of dinosaurs is very different than what we have today. North America was actually split for a part of the time in 2 by a huge seaway running through the mid-continent so you have a Western North America with Asian dinosaurs and an Eastern North America with more European dinosaurs. We can see these migrations. We can see things coming out of Asia and going to North America. You see India having this connection with the Southern hemisphere and then drifting off and ultimately, long after the dinosaurs are extinct, crashing into Asia, so all these incredible, epic narratives unfold against the background of dinosaur evolution.

CJ
00:13:28 So let me bring Paul Serreno into this. How does he fit in?00:14:01

HS
00:14:02 I've known Paul for quite few years. In fact we were graduate students together. Here was this man who was really excited. He wanted to ask all these really big questions "Where do dinosaurs come from? How do dinosaurs achieve these often puzzling geographic distributions over time? He just had this enormous energy. Paul is somebody who has never taken no for an answer. I remember at one point he was working on collections of Chinese dinosaurs in various Chinese museums and I remember he wanted to go over to Mongolia and at that time the Eastern block still existed and Mongolia was still occupied by the Soviet Union and they basically kept throwing him out everyday when he went to ask for a visa. But after a while he almost started wearing them down. They would say "Oh there's that crazy American who wants to have a visa to go to Ulan Batroa and even go into the Gobi to look for dinosaurs." And he even started engaging them in conversation. He once told me that with one of the embassy people he started discussing the merits of Marxism/Leninism, so after a while they thought, well we can throw this guy out the back door but he's just going to get in through a window and they finally gave him a visa. And that kind of thing, this kind of persistence, of often overcoming enormous obstacles, has become kind of Paul's trademark.

CJ
00:15:25 So it's not just scientific acumen that you need. 00:15:27

HS
00:15:28 Oh no, it's persistence. It's a willingness to often make enormous sacrifices because all of this remember even though dinosaurs are hugely popular and a lot of people have made a very handsome living popularizing dinosaurs in movies like Jurassic Park, writing an incessant stream of bad popular books about dinosaurs, having stuffed dinosaurs for small children. You can't imagine. I'm the father of a 13 mo. old daughter and people bring us stuffed dinosaurs all the time because daddy is a paleontologist so the poor kid has to suffer from all these stuffed dinosaurs. But despite all this huge commerce in dinosaurs and dinosaur paraphernalia, very little money goes towards dinosaur research and this is a situation that is not changing. The big people who earn large fortunes off of the popularizing of dinosaurs don't make any contributions to our science. So you have people who want to go out and do expeditions but if you put out a fleet of 5 or 6 LandRovers with personnel, food, supplies, it costs a few hundred thousand dollars, particularly if you find large bones and skeletons that have to be shipped back from some remote location to the United States for preparation and study so you have to make enormous sacrifices. The employment opportunities are slim and if you do even get a job then the next thing you have to worry about how can I put enough money together to even mount a small prospecting campaign and when it comes to a large expedition it just takes a lot of doing. So, you really have to have an extraordinary enthusiasm and the capacity to take every sort of form of abuse to do this.

CJ
00:17:15 The hard scientific work takes what you learned in text books, how is Paul Serreno at that? 00:17:39

HS
00:17:40 Well, getting to your first question, getting back to the lab. Actually that's where the discovery continues because you have the initial excitement of finding a new dinosaur in the field. Then the laboratory, that's where the real discovery begins. As you take the dinosaur out of what we call a field jacket, the sort of cradle of rock and plaster bandages that it's embedded in, bone by bone and then start looking at them, that's when the fossils really start speaking to you and you start looking at the bone as a trained biologist you see that this bone moved, relative to this bone in such and such a way so that I have a grasping hand. Or I look at the teeth the teeth tell me what the animal ate, how it ate it's food. You find pathological changes on bones you get a little bit of an idea, this animal got injured umpteen times during it's life. So, slowly, to you, as a biologist, these bones really speak as if you were looking at a real animal and that's a very exciting second phase and most of us enjoy that as much, or even more than that initial phase of actually discovering things in the field. Now, one of Paul's early questions, Paul had sort of , he was one of the few people at the time who first applied like a new method of looking at the evolutionary history of life. Basically sort of a method based on the idea that if evolutionary change occurs, you should see that in the features of an animal. Say, that two animals that are closely related to one another , should have features in common because of this evolutionary relationship that their nearest relatives don't. So ,for example, humans and chimpanzees share a lot of characteristics that no other primate has so that's one of the reasons that we say that humans and chimpanzees had a more recent common ancestor than they had with any of the other primates.

CJ
00:19:25 It's where you place them all on the tree. 00:19:26

HS
00:19:27 Yeah , and Paul applied this rigorous sort of analytical approach for the first time to a large group of dinosaurs but in the context he then got interested in "Where did dinosaurs come from?" Now in the 1960's an Argentine paleontologist had described some fragments of dinosaur skeletons from a very remote part of Argentina in Northwestern Patagonia called Isago Ilasco, the Valley of the Moon, (CJ: And his name was Herrara), yeah Sr. Herrera found it and then Dr. Oswaldo¿when they published them they created quite a bit of excitement at the time but for some reason, nobody really went back there and look for things. So Paul said "I really should go back there and look for things." Even though everybody said "Oh, that's a remote region, it's a really hard place to work" As far as I know, in the valley, for instance, region there is no potable water. So you actually have to sort of go outside the valley and bring water in. It's a very arid landscape so there's not much to eat there so you have to bring everything. But Paul was totally undaunted by this. He said "" I'm sure I can get there." He went there and was handsomely rewarded, he found the skeleton of this early dinosaur called Herrerasaurous which basically gave us a whole new understanding of what these early dinosaurs looked like. And that's the kind of determination, similarly, when Paul went to Niger, where he made his most recent discoveries, when he went there, we knew from work the French geologists did there in the 1960's that there were dinosaurs there and the French had collected some interesting dinosaur material. But somehow things had just sort of ground to a halt, even the French material had never been properly scientifically described and Paul said, "Well, they are there, they can answer interesting questions because the shape of Africa during the Cretaceous period is very different from what it is now. It can tell us about the break up of the super continent Pangea, the opening of the South Atlantic ocean. So we went there, and Niger when we first went there was in a state of civil war, it was a very dangerous to get there. You had to drive through Algeria at a time when mass killings of people had started in Algeria. But he somehow prevailed despite all of this. He went there and found amazing dinosaur material, much of which still remains to be published just because there is so much of it. And just basically rewrote a significant chapter in the history of dinosaurs.

CJ
21:46 He's very young to be doing this, I wonder is there any feeling among the older dons of the dinosaur field, a little jealousy perhaps?

HS
21:57 No, I don't think that's the case because I think a lot of them think I wish we were younger so that we could go out and do the same thing. Dinosaur science now is a very young science. There are very few older practitioners left because of this hole that I mentioned earlier, sort of in the development of the dinosaur science between the 1930s and 70s, so most of us who are in the business are in our 30s and 40s, this whole group of people that came out of school at the same time and swarmed across the globe, looking for places to find exciting dinosaurs, and Paul just had really proverbial luck in finding exciting things.

CJ
22:36 Are we closer to finding out or knowing what the first dinosaur was?

HS
22:41 Through the discoveries in Argentina and some other more recent discoveries in Brazil and eastern north america, we're getting better idea now what dinosaurs initially evolved from. The interesting questions are now, how are dinosaurs related to other groups. For instance some people have suggested that Pterodactyls and other flying reptiles are closely related to dinosaurs. So that would be the next interesting question, going further down the tree, like what did the first dinosaurs actually come from. We have a few fragmentary glimpses of such creatures from South America, but no one has actually found a full skeleton of one¿..They would be a small creature, somewhere around 5 or 6 feet in length, probably a meat eater, already walking bipedally, that characteristic walk that dinosaurs have. I mean we can sort of make a whole anatomical list of points that we think, from what we understand about dinosaur evolution so far, actually would help us fill in what dinosaur ancestor would look like. At the same time we're also just looking at the tip of the iceberg in terms of dinosaur diversity. There are so far somewhere between 350-400 species of dinosaur known. Some of my colleagues say there were as much as 2000 species, so it's very likely that as we explore new regions of the world where very little field work has been done that we'll find truly fantastic life forms. I mean this recent Crocodile dinosaur is just one example and there are bizarre monsters still lurking out there. So this is going to be a very exciting line of research to come into. And I'm sure that over the next 20-30 years, Paul Sereno will make important contributions to that.

CJ
24:33 In order to find these dinosaurs that haven't been found yet¿what do people have to do? Do we have to go back to places we've already been, do we have to go to new places, do we have to improve our techniques?

HS
24:47 Actually, it's not so much improving technique because there's nothing to improve on the basic technique, it's just to walk a lot and keep your eyes on the ground. People get this misleading idea from Jurassic Park that we just set off an explosive charge and ground penetrating radar shows us in beautiful detail complete skeletons. That's not how it works, that's just rubbish. The basic thing is to actually walk and walk and look and look. And some people have the gift of seeing fossils and some other people who are full of enthusiasm and willing to walk the extra mile will literally walk over specimens. I've been out with people in the field and have found bones in their footprints, they just didn't see them. Some art connoisseurs talk about people having an eye, and similarly there's an eye for finding fossils and basically what we have to do now is revisit some of the old areas like North America. After people have been traveling all of the globe, now going back to good old USA, we find dinosaurs in places where people had been looking in the past but had given up. Now we look again in Utah but even North Carolina, the Midwest, and people find dinosaur bones and new things as well.

CJ
26:08 You talk about all that's still out there to find. Is there in dinosaur paleontology the equivalent of "Lucy"¿is there a holy grail, a single skeleton that's really going to advance your whole understanding of the group?

HS
26:38 Well actually, most of the interrelationships, we still need the missing links. For all of these groups, we now have a good idea of the basic types of dinosaurs that were around but in some cases we have no idea what their last common ancestor would look like or what their closest relatives are. If you look even at the most modern technical text books on dinosaurs there are still a lot of question marks in the family trees. But there are exciting discoveries still to be made out there. For instance what would a bird precursor look like? We have Okeoptrix (?) which is basically a small dinosaur in bird disguise with a small wish bone and feathers, but what's the next animal out there. Who gave rise to the Okeoptrix, somewhere down there in the Jurassic there must be some sort of proto bird that is yet to be discovered. So if anyone found that they would make a scientific reputation overnight. Or for instance, finding another spectacular giant meat eaters. What are the smallest dinosaurs? You always read in books, XY and Z, the smallest known dinosaurs. In many cases those have babies of larger species. Were there really small dinosaurs? Like what is the size spectrum of dinosaurs? It seems that dinosaurs on average were large animals. Some dinosaurs have rewritten the book on what you can actually do as an animal. There may be dinosaurs that are as long as 150 feet and there may be dinosaurs that are as heavy as 100 metric tons or more. These are things that if you said that to a biomechanics professor 20 years ago, they would have said "wow that's rubbish, a creature like that couldn't possibly walk about", but they are out there. And these discoveries are still being made. This one super giant meat eater, xxx, just found in Argentina two years ago.

CJ
sounds like Argentina is a good place to be.

HS
28:32 Argentina, China, central Asia, basically much of Africa is a blank. But as I said, even back home in the United States we can find things.

CJ
28:44 Do you socialize with Paul Sereno?

HS
Oh yeah, he's a good friend of mine.

CJ
28:48 In the larger sense I'm curious what dinosaur paleontologists do when they sit over a beer and compare notes.

HS
28:54 Oh we tell usually hair raising tales of various encounters in various countries. We talk less about the actual discoveries as sort of these xxx who have sat many nights at campfires and worked in places filled with unfriendly people and nasty bugs and tell terrible stories about what the beans did to your digestive system, or the bad moonshine that was the only local alcohol available. This is really one of the last lines of work where you have work and adventure combined into one, which is a rare privilege.

CJ
Do you ever have a problem recruiting new scientists to join you?

HS
29:37 No, there's never a shortage of people willing to do this. The question is after they go out and suffer the abuse, are they willing to come back. And the few that do include our future Paul Serenos.

CJ
30:05 I don't mean to skip you, what are you working on, what do you plan to be doing?

HS
30:13 I'm right now looking for Cretaceous (?) dinosaurs in xxx in Middle Asia, again an area where a single individual had looked for dinosaurs in the 1970s when this was still the Soviet Union into the 1980s. And we had, I had gotten really intrigued by this area because people have suggested that many of our dinosaurs from western north america, from the Cretaceous period actually came from Asia, so it was a neat challenge to think we should go over there and look for such things. You know, things that gave rise to things like T-Rex in north america and the triceratops and the scores of duckbill dinosaurs. Now, there is one really famous set of dinosaur xxx from the Gobi desert which the American Museum of Natural History has been exploring again with fantastic results in recent years. The problem was that those were from an entirely different environment, they're from a very desert like, a very arid environment, whereas the american dinosaurs all lived on a lowland, coastal plane. Now, these xxx dinosaurs also lived on a lowland coastal plane, on the shores of a very different sea. So this, ecologically, made much more sense to go and look for animals over there to see are there dinosaurs related to north american forms and what did they look like. And so far results have been very encouraging, we've gotten quite a diverse dinosaur fauna, and hopefully over the years we'll get quite enough material that we can actually start tracing the evolutionary lineages that ultimately led to the forms we know in north america.

CJ
31:50 Does it ever surprise you or fill you with wonder that this group of animals could rule the earth for that long a period?

HS
32:02 Yeah it does. And it's actually one of the fascinating questions, what made a group like that successful? Why is it that certain animal groups evolve to be so successful to develop so many species and so many adaptations, whereas other groups seem to maintain a very low diversity and never, the entire file of animals the average person on the street wouldn't even recognize and probably dismiss them, it's just a worm or some kind of fish or something like that.

CJ
32:31 So why do you think, do you have any ideas?

HS
32:34 I really don't. People have tried to describe the success of the dinosaurs to their limb posture, their basic physiology, but of course the most intriguing questions is dinosaurs and the first mammal relatives show up at about the same time in the geological record. Yet dinosaurs, then from about 230 million years from present will basically until extinction¿was mammals stay small, there are lots of mammals species but no mammal get bigger than the domestic cat. And then dinosaurs disappear (with the exception of the descendant's birds) and then mammals take off. Within a few million years you get large mammals, you get meat eaters, plant eaters, the whole great diversification of mammals of which we are part.

CJ
33:21 It seems somewhat more solid or well researched or well written in the sense that what happened then killed off the dinosaurs and left a lot of niches for mammals to fill. But what would happen 230 million years ago that would allow dinosaurs to do the same to their predecessors?

HS
33:46 Well there were several extinction events at that time. Dinosaurs showed up, there were still some other animals ruling land ecosystems but then these animals disappeared in one, possibly two extinction events. For some reasons dinosaurs made it through that extinction, so the interesting question is then, why do some animals survive catastrophic extinctions while others don't. So dinosaurs survived the great extinction 200 million years ago¿and then they go extinct 65 million years ago, most of them, so why did they survive one extinction and not the other one¿.we know that around 200 million years ago there was one of the great mass extinctions in earth history, you know there are 5 great extinctions over the last 540 million years or so. And the one 200 million years ago ranks as one of the really big extinctions, lots of animals on land and in the oceans became extinct. And the KT boundary (?) was just one that's popular with the public, and it's a great extinction but there were other bigger extinctions in the past. The really interesting question is why do some organisms suffer great diversity losses in some extinctions whereas others don't. Because there are many problems with the asteroid impact as the great cause because so many organisms, including environmentally very sensitive species make it through. Well we cannot deny, the evidence for the impact is totally beyond question. But we're still interested in why dinosaurs didn't survive the extinction, at least the little ones when all these other things, frogs, lizards, salamanders, mammals made it through. So those are intriguing questions and they're the kind of thing that continues to fuel our exploration problems.

CJ
35:41 ¿.tell me whether paleontologists sit around and dream about what it would have been like to live with dinosaurs.

HS
36:02 Oh I think many of us do. Sometimes when you look at the loot from your fuel season, you sit down in some desert and just imagine that this area was once covered with lush vegetation, there were huge rivers and lakes and all these animals in the air, the ground and on water. And I think frankly, in most of these places, I wouldn't have wanted to have lived because you probably would survive for about five minutes, you're up against an animal like a xxx or a T-Rex or even one of the plant eaters, these probably were not friendly creatures, just like a rhino or a water buffalo is not a friendly creature¿so if you had been back there even if you had some small firearm you would not have survived very long.

CJ
36:51 So you think mammals like us would be more modest.

HS
36:55 We're not (laughs)¿.

CJ
¿Do you think mammals could last 150 million years?

HS
37:09 Oh, mammals have already lasted that long because as I've said mammals and dinosaurs showed up at around the same time, so mammals are actually one of the great success stories¿the question is whether our own little species will still be around even a million years from now¿I'm kind of skeptical¿.I think we're really doing our darndest to make our planet uninhabitable for our own species, we sort of get involved, when we could do good things we always choose the side of doing the bad thing. We're far more interested in tawdry political scandals instead of addressing the ills of our planetary system.

CJ
Is there something you'd like to say about the century of paleontology and Paul Sereno, whatever you think?

HS
38:13 Well, this has been a really great century in dinosaur paleontology. The last 20-30 years have just been one of the most exciting periods in studying fossils. We have not only had all these fantastic new discoveries but we have learned all these new ways of reading fossils¿.we just have so many more tools to make these fossil remains speak to us about the organisms they represent, the life and times of these organisms and the world they lived in. So suddenly all kinds of things are coming together. Whereas in the past people describe dinosaur bones one by one neatly, filed them away¿now we can actually go the next step and look at them as the remains of a living organism and then using them as a model system for what can happen to a successful group of complex organisms. And there are many lessons for our own existence in that.
CJ
DNA?

HS
Well I think DNA is overrated¿DNA just doesn't preserve that well in the fossil record¿we'll probably learn how to better work with these little fragments, but they're always just going to be little fragments. There's just this odd fascination, this laboratory envy, that we have to do DNA because it's cool, you know Jurassic Park was such a hit. But the thing is something like Jurassic Park won't happen. Because there are just too many things that we cannot, at least with our present day technology, address¿.there is some progress in recognizing fossil biomolecules, but it's still a far cry from Jurassic Park¿.(they banter a bit, but nothing that great)

CJ
When are you going into the field next?

HS
I'm hoping next summer¿we usually go back there late August when the temperatures become a little more bearable.

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