Magazine article Natural History

Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History

Magazine article Natural History

Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History

Article excerpt

Home to the world's largest collection of vertebrate fossils, the American Museum of Natural History has a long and distinguished history of paleontological research around the globe. Museum scientists in the Division of Paleontology study the history of life on Earth through the discovery, analysis, and comparison of fossil remains. The Museum's history includes some of the greatest names in paleontology and some of science's most important and groundbreaking field expeditions, including Roy Chapman Andrews's seminal Central Asiatic Expeditions (1921-1930), and Barnum Brown's India-Burma Expedition (1922-1923).

The first curator of the Department of Invertebrates was hired in 1877. Under Henry Fairfield Osborn, founder of the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology in 1892 (and later Museum President), the Department's collection became the largest repository of fossils in the world. The research of Osborne's successors, George Gaylord Simpson, Edwin H. Colbert, and Bobb Schaeffer, established the Museum's central role in the study of paleozoogeography, the "Evolutionary Synthesis" theory, and functional morphology.

Currently, Mark A. Norell, an expert on "feathered" dinosaurs as well as coelurosaurs, is Curator and Chairman of the Division of Paleontology. Among other projects, Dr. Norell is working with Joel Cracraft, Curator in the Division of Vertebrate Zoology, on a project illustrating the family relationships among all archosaurs, a group that includes modern birds and their dinosaurian relatives.

Along with Michael J. Novacek, Senior Vice President, Provost, and Curator, Dr. Norell has co-led 15 joint expeditions since 1990 to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia with the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. These expeditions have yielded spectacular discoveries: the Gobi has preserved a broad spectrum of creatures, from towering dinosaurs to tiny mammals, all in exquisite detail.

In the past decade, Dr. Norell has also been making annual visits to China to confer with paleontology colleagues at Beijing University, the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing. These visits enhance the productive exchange of research that has developed between these Chinese institutions and the Museum and allow the study of the newest fossils collected from rich fossil beds in China.

Dr. Novacek has also conducted extensive research on the evolutionary relationships of extinct and living mammals, drawing upon evidence from the fossil record and molecular biology. …

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