Sunday, July 13, 2014

The generic history of dinosaur paleontology: 1970 to 1989

Welcome back! We are nearing the end of this series; for reference, the previous installments are 1699 to 1869 (birth), 1870 to 1899 (Bone Wars), 1900 to 1929 (growth to contraction), and 1930 to 1969 (doldrums). The current period, 1970 to 1989, covers the height of the Dinosaur Renaissance, basically from Deinonychus (1969) to the first edition of The Dinosauria and Jurassic Park (the novel) (1990). The last segment, 1990 to the present, could be broadly considered the Post-Renaissance, the Internet Age, or the Feathered Age of Dinosaurs. If I had to guess, I'd say the transition from Renaissance to the modern era goes from about 1990 to 1996, which includes such milestones as the film version of Jurassic Park (1993) and the appearance of the Dinosaur Mailing List (1994), and ends with the publication of feathered dinosaurs (Sinosauropteryx). Feathers are really the key: before Sinosauropteryx, feathered dinosaurs were the province of just a couple of workers, particularly Gregory Paul. That first description and the discoveries to come changed the game.

Identifying a few key personalities becomes more difficult as the field expands. We met Bob Bakker, José Bonaparte, and John Ostrom last week. Bakker, of course, is one of the major names in the public eye, rivaled only by Jack Horner, who made his name with his work on Maiasaura. Both Horner and Bakker are not heavily represented in generic counts, because naming new forms has not been their primary focus. In this way, they are at the forefront of a trend in paleontology away from pure taxonomy and descriptive work: you no longer have to name things to be an active, influential paleontologist. People like Peter Dodson, David Norman, and David Weishampel, all active during this period, are other examples of researchers whose most significant contributions are not tied to pure taxonomy. (Note, though, that other trends for greater collaboration and multiple authorship mean that people who are primarily interested in taphonomy, paleobiology, and so forth can end up with a couple of names under their belts. This spreading around of authorship also makes judging influence simply by tallies of names even less meaningful.) Horner and Bakker are also perhaps the first examples of the modern media-savvy paleontologist.

New names you'll encounter frequently in the literature from this time period show the expanding and diversifying field. Teresa Maryańska and Halszka Osmólska, from Poland, are the first women with a sustained publication record on dinosaurs. They frequently publish as a duo on Mongolian dinosaurs. Rinchen Barsbold is the father of dinosaur paleontology in Mongolia. Dong Zhiming takes up the mantle of Yang Zhongjian in Chinese paleontology. In England, Peter Galton describes numerous dinosaurs, primarily ornithischians, and in North America, Dale Russell expands the Canadian fauna. Two researchers who are well-known from the Post-Renaissance, Phil Currie and Paul Sereno, both get their academic starts in this era. (Incidentally, Sereno is listed as the paleontological consultant for one of the 1980s "100 dinosaurs from A to Z" book I grew up on; gotta start somewhere, I suppose. Such books have gone by the wayside with the advent of the Internet and the fact that trying to select 100 notable dinosaurs nowadays leaves you with a lot of tough cuts. In the early to mid 1980s, you might still be reaching for such luminaries as Geranosaurus to fill things out.)

I'm going to make the executive decision to omit the various stripes of informal names (nomina nuda, museum labels, thesis and dissertation names, etc.). They hadn't really been a problem until this era, when the growing field of researchers and the increasing interest in dinosaurs helped get a lot of informal names out there. Start talking uncautiously to a reporter, forget to edit names out of a presentation, use a name in one work that you assume will be published after the description but isn't, and boom, you've set loose an informal name. Because they have no official scientific standing, they shouldn't count for our purposes.

The first half of the 1970s kicks off with Ostrom's description of the rest of the Cloverly Four (Microvenator, Sauropelta, and Tenontosaurus). 1970 is also a good year for theropods starting with "D": Daspletosaurus, Deinocheirus, and Dilophosaurus. In hindsight, perhaps the reason we only had the arms of Deinocheirus for so long was that we weren't prepared for the rest of it; the one thing that could have made it better would be horns. 1971 sees the first good examples of dinosaur cousins, in Lagerpeton and Lagosuchus, as well as what turns out to be the first more or less complete titanosaurian skull in Nemegtosaurus (of course, it had to go on a long and winding journey before it got there). 1972 is the year of the ornithomimid, with Archaeornithimimus, Dromiceiomimus, and Gallimimus, and also yields the important early sauropod Vulcanodon. An interesting sidelight of 1972 is Azendohsaurus, one of the earliest examples of nondinosaurian archosaurs that got away as dinosaurian imitators for years because of their teeth. Luminaries of 1973 and 1974 include giant hadrosaur Shantungosaurus, late-surviving stegosaur Wuerhosaurus, big theropod thingie Labocania (the first dinosaur named from Mexico), early tyrannosaur relative (although not known at the time) Stokesosaurus, and a good crop of pachycephalosaurs (Homalocephale, Prenocephale, and Tylocephale). All told, 40 genera are described from 1970 to 1974, which beats the preceding fifteen years. 29 are recognizable as nonavian dinosaurs, and almost all are still valid. All of the continents except Antarctica (still lacking described dinosaurs) and Australia get into the act with notable new genera.

Pictured: an awkward, gangly, long-armed creature, and Deinocheirus.
1975 to 1979 ups the pace with 44 genera, all of which may be dinosaurian (if you have a charitable opinion of Dravidosaurus). 1975 comes in with 9, including Bagaceratops and Barapasaurus, filling in gaps in basal horned dinosaurs and sauropods, respectively. Slim-snouted crinkle-nosed tyrannosaur Alioramus is of 1976 vintage, as well as Itemirus (which used to end up in dinosaur books because it could play tyrannosaur or dromaeosaur) and ridge-back Ouranosaurus; in this bicentennial year, the U.S. gets Marshosaurus bicentesimus. Marsh gets honored again in 1977 with Othnielia, but Mongolia and China have better years, with Opisthocoelicaudia, Saichania, Tarchia, and Tuojiangosaurus as the most notable (and if you can spell all of those without looking, you've been doing this too long). 1978 spreads things out again, with the five most productive continents represented. The biggest names this time are Lesothosaurus, Yangchuanosaurus, and, quite literally, Micropachycephalosaurus, which otherwise has yet to amount to anything except trivia fodder. 1979 is the most productive year since von Huene's triumphal 1932, with 17 genera; unlike 1932, most of these are still valid, although generally they're B- or C-listers. Maiasaura is the most notable exception. Segnosaurus and Torvosaurus are up there as well, although Segnosaurus has been somewhat forgotten since Therizinosaurus became the standard-bearer for "segnosaurs". Majungatholus worked hard but in the end lost out to Majungasaurus.

1980 to 1984 inches up again, with 47 genera, 43 of which are dinosaurian. Australia has a good couple of years with Kakuru (1980), Minmi (1980), and Muttaburrasaurus (1981), just in time for the 1980s wave of popular science dinosaur books. 1980 also produces the book staples Erlikosaurus, Noasaurus (then an apparent South American dromaeosaurid), and Saltasaurus (the armored sauropod). Other significant names from 1981 include Avimimus, Elmisaurus, Garudimimus (then thought to have a small crest), "Ingenia" (to belabor the point, this is several years before Jurassic Park, so it has nothing to do with InGen), and Scutellosaurus. The star of 1982 turns out to be early stegosaur Huayangosaurus. 1983 is a little strange, because the list includes a number of undescribed names from Zhao Xijin's dissertation. In terms of trivia, the first dinosaur names beginning with Q (Quaesitosaurus) and X (Xiaosaurus) are from 1983. 1983 is also the source for the ill-starred Ultrasaurus (South Korean version). The most significant genus from this year is probably the sauropod Shunosaurus. 1984 is also relatively quiet, the most notable probably being Harpymimus.

1985 to 1989 gets 48 genera, 42 of which are dinosaurian. The numbers are very comparable to the previous five years, although for whatever reason this batch isn't quite as well-known outside of a half-dozen examples. 1985 hogs the spotlight with two duos: Abelisaurus and Carnotaurus, the first described members of Abelisauridae; and Supersaurus and Ultrasaurus (the Jim Jensen version), then thought to be brachiosaurs. 1986 is best known for Baryonyx. Before it was described, it was speculatively mooted as a dromaeosaur, becoming the then-latest victim of the inexplicable paleontological pitfall of dinosaur hand claws being mistaken for other bones. This goes back to Iguanodon, where the thumb spike was once mistaken for a horn, and has also affected Dryptosaurus/Laelaps, Noasaurus, and Megaraptor, among others. The last three years of the decade produce 26 names, but are relatively undistinguished. 1987 did include informal names for Monolophosaurus ("Jiangjunmiaosaurus") and Nanotyrannus ("Clevelanotyrannus"). 1988's best in class are Nanotyrannus (on sheer notoriety) and Orodromeus, and, many years later, Giraffatitan. 1989 may be best known for Australian long-tailed hypsilophodont thingie Leaellynasaura, mythical giant dinosaur Bruhathkayosaurus, and one of the most famous dinosaurs that weren't, Revueltosaurus.

The standard random thoughts:
  • The age of the specialist in dinosaur paleontology has begun; the next few decades introduce the specialist on specific topics within dinosaur paleontology.
  • 1970 to 1974 is the first five year period since 1930 to 1934 with 40 genera. All four five-year periods from 1970 to 1989 have 40 or more, and both decades clear 80, which had not been done before.
  • Something hidden by the genera is a brief transcontinental dinosaur fad. There had long been the occasional dinosaur with species in multiple continents (Brachiosaurus, Iguanodon, Saurolophus; Megalosaurus is the champ but shouldn't really count, because the business of naming Megalosaurus species looks more like performance art than science), but the then-new theory of plate tectonics seems to have inspired authors. Thus, there were Anchisaurus capensis (South Africa) and A. sinensis (from China), Hypsilophodon wielandi (from North America), and Iguanodon lakotaensis and I. ottingeri (both from North America), among others. Most of the species have since been redistributed.
  • Q and X finally show up.
  • Although the Dinosaur Renaissance era is noted for its imagination and speculation, the names are still fairly staid. There are lots of "-saurus" to be had, particularly "[place name] saurus". Kakuru, named for a mythological serpent, is perhaps the most unusual.
  • By the end of this period, dual authorship is common, and we've even had a few with as many as four authors. Gallimimus (1972) is the first to have three authors (Osmólska, Roniewicz, and Barsbold), and Barapasaurus (1976) is the first with four (Jain, Kutty, Roy-Chowdhury, and Chatterjee).
  • The period of about 15 years centered on the 1980s is a golden age for semitechnical or popular science dinosaur books. Behold: Archosauria: A New Look At The Old Dinosaur (John C. McLoughlin, 1979); Dinosaurs of North America (Helen Roney Sattler, 1981); The New Dinosaur Dictionary (Donald F. Glut, 1982); A Field Guide to Dinosaurs (The Diagram Group/David Lambert, 1983); The Illustrated Dinosaur Dictionary (Sattler, 1983); The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs (David Norman, 1985) (and its blood brother, the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Pterosaurs, Peter Wellnhofer, 1991); The Dinosaur Heresies (Bob Bakker, 1986); Predatory Dinosaurs of the World (Gregory Paul, 1988); An Odyssey in Time: the Dinosaurs of North America (Dale Russell, 1989); Dinosaurs: A Global View (Sylvia J. Czerkas and Stephen A. Czerkas, 1990); The Dinosaur Data Book (Lambert, 1990); The Dinosaur Society Dinosaur Encyclopedia (Don Lessem, 1993); and The Ultimate Dinosaur Book (Lambert, 1993). The books by Norman, Bakker, and Paul are among the most influential general science dinosaur books published. 1990 also had the first edition of The Dinosauria, the first in-depth scientific summary of dinosaurs.
  • Jurassic Park takes place in 1989. Yes, they had supercomputers. 1980s supercomputers. 2008 laptops are superior to 1980s supercomputers. Furthermore, for the park to have had adult dinosaurs, there's some lead time involved, so you're pushing back probably to 1970s equipment. There are probably microwaves that are smarter than 1970s computers. I'm writing this on a 2014 laptop, and I'm going to guess that most of you are reading this on devices that are six years old or younger. I'm also going to guess that none of you has created any dinosaurs lately; I know I haven't. There is also a distinct lack of dinosaur parks. What I'm saying is that we're all a bunch of slackers.
  • When you get interested in something, what's already there when you arrive will seem like it has always been there, and everything that comes along later will always seem a little new to you, even if it has been decades. Think about music or sports, of the bands and players active when you first became interested. I first got seriously interested in dinosaurs around 1986 and imprinted on The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs. For me names like Carnotaurus will never stop being ever so slightly new.
  • Also: get off of my lawn, you kids!

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