UC Berkeley press release

NEWS RELEASE, 11/05/97

New "Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs" is the most authoritative and thorough yet on dinosaur life

by Robert Sanders


BERKELEY-- Does the world really need another book about dinosaurs?

The answer is an emphatic yes, says UC Berkeley paleontologist Kevin Padian, coeditor of a massive and thorough new book titled the "Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs" (Academic Press, 1997).

"This is the first big compendium by so many specialists and about so many topics related to the Age of Dinosaurs," says Padian, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley and a curator of lower vertebrates in the university's Museum of Paleontology.

Padian's coeditor is Philip Currie, curator of dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada, and adjunct professor at the University of Calgary.

"This is not a field guide," Padian emphasizes. "This book is about the biology of dinosaurs, about how we know what we do about dinosaur evolution, physiology, behavior -- even how they cared for their young."

Accessible to scholar and dinosaur lover alike -- Padian says even a third-grader can get something out of this book -- the beautifully illustrated encyclopedia includes discussions of dinosaur skin and teeth, footprints and fossilized feces, and detailed summaries of the major groups of dinosaurs, from the fierce Tyrannosauridae to the long-necked tree-top browsers called sauropods.

There's even an entry on "Jurassic Park" and the science behind the movie. (The foreward is by "Jurassic Park" author Michael Crichton.)

The encyclopedia comes out during what many people have dubbed "the new golden age of dinosaurs," Padian says. Many important discoveries hit the journals and are touted in the popular press every year.

In fact, the cover of the encyclopedia is graced by a painting of a creature discovered only last year in China -- a feathered dinosaur, Sinosauropteryx prima, that is the most dramatic evidence to date of the numerous "bird" features that showed up first in Mesozoic dinosaurs.

"The last 20 years has seen a resurgence in the field," he says. "People have gone out to new places, or looked at old sites in new ways and for different things, and collected amazing fossils. The finds are changing how we think about dinosaurs."

One example is the reassessment of a dinosaur originally dubbed Oviraptor -- "egg stealer" -- because its bones were found around egg-filled nests in Mongolia in the 1920s. The assumption was that it was eating the eggs, but the discovery of other nests in the 1990s led paleontologists to conclude that these dinosaurs were actually sitting on the nests, and the eggs were their own. Oviraptors are one of only two dinosaurs ever found on nests, thus providing direct evidence of parental behavior in dinosaurs.

"The behavior of these dinosaurs is the same as birds," Padian says. "We don't know how far back nesting and parental behavior go in dinosaurs, but many of them cared for their young much like birds do, as opposed to the more limited parental behavior of today's reptiles."

Padian's particular interest is the origin of flight, and he authored the section on Pterosaurs, the winged reptiles that were the first flying vertebrates. He also wrote a section on the origin of birds.

"We find so many things we didn't know dinosaurs had, that we thought only birds had," he says. Among these are lightly built bones, a distinctive three-toed foot, the gradual loss of the fifth and fourth fingers, and a wishbone.

"Birds ... must be considered dinosaurs," he concludes in his article.

And what about the demise of the dinosaurs?

While the popular idea is that a collision between the Earth and a rogue asteroid or comet led to a massive die-off, the consensus among paleontologists is different. With little evidence of a world-wide vertebrate extinction at the end of the Cretaceous, collision with an asteroid -- combined with extensive volcanism and a drop in sea level that occurred at the same time -- probably contributed to an ongoing decline in species. But the dinosaurs were dwindling well before the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary, about 65 million years ago, leaving only the birds.

These topics and others make for a book with an amazing breadth and depth, a book that synthesizes many points of view and provides a unique picture of how paleontologists go about reconstructing an age long gone.

"This was an exciting project, and we hope schools and libraries find the book useful," Padian says.

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