Episode 27 – Machairoceratops: An Extinct Horned Dinosaur Under Threat!

Eighty million years ago, a wildly ornamented species of horned dinosaur roamed the southern half of North America’s western landmass, Laramidia. In 2016, paleontologist Eric Lund and his colleagues named it Machairoceratops cronusi, and we fell in love with this ceratopsian from Utah with hooks over its frill. In 2017, the site where Machairoceratops was found was cut from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, threatening our chances of making new discoveries about dinosaur evolution there. Join us on this episode to meet one of our favorite ceratopsian researchers, marvel at the grandeur of Machairoceratops, and mourn the loss of protections for some incredible vertebrate fossil sites.

Hunting Horned Dinosaurs with Eric Lund!

We want to thank our guest on this episode, Eric Lund, for clearing up some of our ceratopsian confusion! Although we interviewed him while he was a student at Ohio University, he’ll be finishing up his PhD while he works in his new position in the Paleontology Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. You can follow him on Twitter at @Bwana_Lund. And be sure to check out the scientific article he led about Machairoceratops cronusi in the journal PLOS ONE!

Dig Deeper…

On this episode, Eric Lund introduces us to the incredibly fossil-rich and scientifically significant Kaiparowits Plateau of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. You can learn more about it in this New York Times article from 2015 and download an awesome poster about the dinosaurs of the monument designed by Blue Aster Studio. Check out the original paper for free in the science journal Plos One!

The spectacular paleo-art featured in the promo image was painted by paleoartist Mark Witton. Check out his blog and art gallery.

We also touch on the idea of ownership of vertebrate fossils, which tell the story of the evolution of our planet, and the laws surrounding these shared resources in the United States. This How Stuff Works article explains the debate about fossil ownership, and this webpage from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology explains the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act.

It may be confusing for a paleontology podcast to wade into politics, but when you’re talking about a fossil found in a national monument, it is impossible not to. Everyone you hear on this episode is a member of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP), and one of the goals of SVP is “To support and encourage the discover, conservation and protection of vertebrate fossils and fossil sites” (SVP Code of Ethics). In line with this Code of Ethics, SVP is taking legal action to prevent the cuts to two national monuments that would endanger significant vertebrate fossil sites. SVP explains its position with useful maps and graphics here, and this interview with Dr. P. David Polly, the outgoing President of SVP, provides more information.

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