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Sterling Nesbitt

OLogy Series
ologist
card
270

Sterling Nesbitt

OLogy Series
ologist

Sterling was always fascinated by nature, ancient history, and archaeology. Since he was 15 years old, he has spent every vacation digging for fossils. Today, he is a paleontologist whose fieldwork took him to Arizona, Utah, North Carolina, New Mexico, and Tanzania, Africa. But some of his most important work were in the lab, where he discovered a new crocodilian relative of dinosaurs.

A New Discovery
Effigia may not have been discovered until 2004, but skeletons of this ancient reptile were collected about 60 years earlier. These fossils were excavated from Ghost Ranch, New Mexico by the famous paleontologist Edwin Colbert. At the time, scientists thought they belonged to Coelophysis, a small dinosaur. Like many others, these fossils were wrapped in plaster and brought back to the Museum's catacombs, a vast basement filled with huge plaster monoliths. It stayed there, unopened, for decades-until there came reports of reptiles discovered at Ghost Ranch. Sterling was intrigued by the unopened fossils, and decided it was time to investigate. "It took me a few weeks to prepare and remove the bones from that old plaster cast, but by comparing it to a Coelophysis found by Colbert at Ghost Ranch, I very quickly realized that what seemed at first to be a dinosaur was a creature unknown to science until now."

Sterling thinks the Triassic Period is fascinating because that's when:

the first life forms appeared Earth

most of the modern vertebrates evolved

modern humans evolved

Are you right?

Correct!

The Triassic Period lasted from 250-200 million years ago. It was also during this time that dinosaurs evolved, although the earliest ones were relatively small. Larger dinosaurs were more common in the later Jurassic Period.

Sterling Nesbitt, Paleontologist

After the discovery of Effigia, I knew I had to go to Ghost Ranch, New Mexico and see for myself what other creatures might still be undiscovered.

Sterling Nesbitt, Paleontologist

The fossils stored in the Museum's catacombs were collected by really famous paleontologists. To see what they saw-for the first time in 60, 80, 100 years-is pretty incredible.

Sterling Nesbitt, Paleontologist

I grew up in the Southwest and read about the amazing discoveries in the 1940s at a place called Ghost Ranch. But I never thought that someday I'd get the chance to do my own excavation there!

Since Sterling was the one who discovered Effigia okeeffeae, he got to name it.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

"Effigia", meaning ghost, was for Ghost Ranch where it was found and the fact it was hidden for so long. "Okeeffeae" honors artist Georgia O'Keeffe who painted the nearby badlands.

Hometown: Mesa, Arizona
Education: BA in integrative biology, MA in geoscience; working on PhD at Columbia
Job: graduate student (investigates early dinosaurs and distant relatives of crocodilians)
Known for: discovering a new species of reptile
Favorite part of job: being out in the field and digging, especially when he unearths fossil evidence that no one has ever touched before!

Image credits: courtesy of Giant Screen Films; Sterling Nesbitt: courtesy of AMNH; Sterling Nesbitt: courtesy of AMNH; Sterling Nesbitt: courtesy of AMNH.