On Friday, the Royal Ontario Museum’s dinosaur specialist took the stage to discuss new directions in dinosaur research. David Evans, the associate curator of vertebrate paleontology, gave the concluding talk to “Discoveries Around the World,” a day-long colloquium where the public was invited to hear curatorial staff present research and recent discoveries in natural history and world cultures.
The ROM has been collecting and researching dinosaurs for over 100 years. Evans joined the ROM in 2006, when he was 26 years old. Since then, he has traveled to northern Yukon, the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, Golden Gates Highland National Park in South Africa, and the Milk River region of southern Alberta. He is the first dinosaur specialist the museum has employed since the 1950s.
Evans spoke of techniques like CT scanning and powerful visualization programs. “[They] lead us to a much better idea of what the function of the bizarre crests in some of these dinosaurs are, what senses were more important than others in a dinosaur’s everyday life,” said Evans. These techniques also help reconstruct evolutionary relationships in better detail.
Bone histology is a method Evans compares to “rings in a tree.” Researchers read the annual growth rings in the microstructure of bones, visible under a microscope, to reconstruct the life history of a dinosaur. Thanks to a grant, the ROM is setting up its own bone histology lab.
“We’ve collected over 20,000 pounds of field jackets of dinosaur bones and we’re just starting to prepare the fossils, but we’re coming up with some really interesting results,” said Evans, adding that new dinosaurs could be added to the collection. “We have the world’s oldest dome-headed dinosaur, the oldest member of the Ceratopsidae that we know of from Alberta, and probably the world.” His team also found the skull of a duck-billed dinosaur that is “almost certainly a new primitive flat-headed dinosaur.” The ROM has seven complete skeletons of duck-billed dinosaurs (also called hadrosaurs), Evans’ specialty.
“When you name the dinosaurs, are you going to name them after yourself like the other paleontologists?” asked one of the kids in the audience. Evans smiled before saying, “No. Definitely not.” He could not divulge possible names, but said that the world shouldn’t expect to hear about a recently discovered Evansaurus.
Evans and his team hope their research will raise awareness for the Dragon’s Tomb site in the Gobi Desert, to protect it from fossil poachers. Poachers steal skulls, teeth, and claws, which fetch a high price on the black market.