Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wrong for the Right Reasons

Outdated restoration of a Protoceratops andrewsi nesting
ground. Painting by Charles R. Knight, 1922.

Flipping through an old dinosaur book from the 1970s or early 1980s can be pretty fun. Nostalgia aside, it's great to see how far the science of paleontology has progressed in just a few decades, and also have a few laughs at the (from our modern perspective) outrageously outdated ideas and reconstructions we find. (David Orr's blog Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs has a great, long-running series covering "vintage dinosaur art" that lovingly pokes fun at some of the mistakes made by past palaeontographers.) Old dinosaur TV shows can be just as good. Last week, Mrs. M recorded a bunch of dinosaur shows for me which were airing on the Science Channel. I hadn't seen any of them before, and didn't realize until I hit play that I was in for a blast from the past. The shows were obviously old-school, narrated by Jeff Goldblum (I assumed these had come out around the time of The Lost World: Jurassic Park until one episode started discussing finds from later in the 1990s like Beipiaosaurus). One episode featured a segment on Roy Chapman Andrew's famous discovery of dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert, and the infamous misinterpretation of the eggs as belonging to Protoceratops rather than Oviraptor. This is just the kind of paleontological gaffe we paleo fans get schadenfreude out of today. After discussing the refuted hypothesis that an Oviraptor found on a nest of these eggs was first thought to be eating them rather than guarding them as later finds suggested, Mrs. M asked the obvious question: Why, given that this thing was found on top of the eggs, did they assume the eggs belonged to a different dinosaur?