Twenty-first century dinosaurs from ‘Hell’

Jul 31st, 2012

Kelly Foss

Twenty-first century dinosaurs from ‘Hell’

A public lecture, taking place on the St. John’s campus of Memorial University, will discuss 21st-century dinosaurs from Hell. That is, Hell Creek, South Dakota. The lecture will take place Tuesday, Aug. 14, at 7 p.m. in EN-2006.

Dr. Phil Manning heads the Palaeontology Research Group in the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at the University of Manchester. He will be visiting Memorial University for Ichnia 2012, the third International Congress on Ichnology, which is being hosted Aug. 9-24 by the Department of Earth Sciences.

“The Hell Creek Formation (Late Cretaceous) consists of a productive succession of sediments that contain the fossil remains of dinosaurs and their contemporary fauna/flora,” explained Dr. Manning. “A recently discovered multi-taxa site in South Dakota is yielding vertebrate, such as dinosaur, bird, mammal, fish, crocodilian and turtle; and invertebrate material, such as arthropod cuticle, feeding traces, etc.; as well as a diverse flora including seeds, leaves and amber, and is knee-deep in dinosaurs.”

Dr. Manning says the traditional approach to excavating such sites often overlooks key chemical information that is present in both enclosing sediments and fossil remains.

“The easily comprehended physical fossil often takes precedent over the less visible “chemical” fossil,” he said. “However, it is the latter that might hold the key to the reason behind the organism being fossilized in the first instance.

“The application of synchrotron-based analyses at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource have already proven very successful when distilling crucial information that allows interpretation of the burial history (taphonomy) of fossils; including iconic fossils such as Archaeopteryx, Confuciusornis and the mummified skin from a Hadrosaur dinosaur,” he continued. “This is where the worlds of particle physics and palaeontology meet . . . this might sound a little crazy, but the realities are scientifically and aesthetically beautiful.”

Dr. Manning is a reader in palaeobiology at the University of Manchester and the Science in Society Research Fellow for the Science & Technology Facilities Council. He is also an adjunct associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. His research includes international collaboration with projects in Europe, South and North America, China and North Africa. You might have seen him on TV in a recent series he wrote and presented for National Geographic, ‘Jurassic CSI’ (