Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries

May 14, 2005 — January 8, 2006


Full protoceratops fossil skeleton pictured from above.
Imagine the thrill of discovering something brand-new about a creature that lived millions of years ago.

Ever since the first dinosaur fossil was identified almost 200 years ago, people have wondered how these fascinating animals lived, moved, and behaved. At first, dinosaur hunters used only such tools as a keen eye, shovels, and compasses. Today, scientists also rely on everything from satellite technology to scanning electron microscopes.

Prepare to take a journey of discovery into the exciting world of modern paleontology. New dinosaur fossils are being discovered faster than ever before. Advanced technology allows scientists to look at these fossils in fresh ways. And researchers are gaining surprising insights into these amazing animals. New discoveries, new technology, and new ideas are helping today's scientists piece together what these living, breathing dinosaurs were really like.

About the Curator

Dr. Mark Norell
Chair and Curator, Division of Paleontology
Curator, Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries

Mark Norell

Dr. Norell works in several areas of specimen-based and theoretical research. He works on the description and relationships of coelurosaurs and studies elements of the Asian Mesozoic fauna. He analyzes important new "feathered" dinosaurs from Liaoning, China, and develops theoretical methods for better understanding phylogenetic relationships and pattern in the fossil record. Under his co-direction with Michael Novacek, a team of paleontologists working in the Gobi desert since 1990 has produced a wealth of great specimens. This has led to the development of a new phylogenetic hypothesis for coelurosaurian theropods. Generally this hypothesis conforms to traditional arrangements, with a few notable exceptions. These larger analyses have allowed more discreet analyses of both troodontids and dromaeosaurs.

Dr. Norell makes frequent visits to northern China, where work has begun recently on spectacular fossil material. This material includes the first report of true-feathered theropods, detailed analyses of primitive avialans, the description of a feathered dromaeosaur, and other faunal elements. Several new and exciting animals are currently being described.

Similar studies have been carried out on fossil lizards and champsosaurs from this region. The lizard fauna is remarkable because of its diversity and due to the large number of taxa embedded within modern clades. Work on these animals has led Dr. Norell's team to discover some aspects of anguimorph phylogeny, to recognize new clades of lizards, to phylogenetically place problematic taxa, and to describe poorly known taxa based on new material.

Dr. Norell's theoretical work focuses on developing methodology for evaluating the effect of missing data on large data sets, sensitivity methods for character weighting, and using phylogeny to estimate patterns in the fossil record such as diversity and extinction. He also studies the relationship between stratigraphic position and phylogenetic topology.

Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries and its accompanying education and public programs were made possible by Bank of America. Major funding has also been provided by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Endowment Fund.

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Dinosaurs:  Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (www.amnh.org), in collaboration with the Houston Museum of Natural Science; the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco; The Field Museum, Chicago; and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh.