Dodson talks dinos

Peter Dodson can make scorpion bites, a desert of nothingness and a strict diet of rice and beans sound appealing.

The first speaker in this year’s Provost’s Lecture Series, Dodson highlighted aspects of his career in a Sept. 24 talk titled “Pursuing Dinosaurs on Four Continents.”

Created last year by Provost Robert L. Barchi, the lecture series showcases the work of Penn’s most senior faculty.

Dodson, who announced to his parents at age 11 that he wanted to be a paleontologist, has conducted fieldwork in extreme circumstances.

He shared one particular experience that took place a few years ago in Madagascar. “We had a dry camp, meaning we had to carry all the water for cooking and bathing, so it was not luxury accommodation. We had a native woman cooking for us. She cooked on two charcoal burners. On one she prepared rice and [on] the other burner she prepared beans. We had a very lean diet,” he said.

Luckily, Dodson has impressive finds to make up for less-than-desirable field conditions. He was part of a research team that uncovered fossilized remains of a gargantuan plant-eating dinosaur in Egypt’s Bahariya Oasis, about 200 miles southwest of Cairo, in 1999. The second-biggest dinosaur known to have ever lived, Paralititan and its 67-inch humerus renewed interest in Egypt as a fossil-rich site.

“Egypt is very interested in old things, but to the Egyptians old things mean 5,000 years old or less. Dinosaur bones are just sort of stones lying in the ground which they kind of kick out of the way. When we were working there we hoped against hope that we didn’t find any antiquities because then all hell would break loose,” said Dodson.

But Dodson emphasized that travel to remote regions like China and Argentina is not necessary for great finds. He says the United States leads the list [as a fossil-rich country] by a wide margin and has more kinds of dinosaurs than any country known.

Dodson added that the rate at which new dinosaurs are being described, 10 per year, is also cause for excitement.

That, however, offered little consolation to Provost Barchi, who said, “It makes me a little envious with four lab walls [as my office] and with four continents being yours. I’m wondering what I missed.”

Last story in sequence
Front page for this issue
Next story in sequence

Originally published on October 11, 2001