Palaeontology is the science of extinct forms of life. In order to find out about extinct animals and plants, a palaeontologist has to be a naturalist, geologist, historian, archaeologist, zoologist, biologist – or a combination of some or all of these. In this section, you will find the biographies of some of the palaeontologists and other scientists who have contributed to our extensive knowledge of the extraordinary world of the dinosaurs.
This French naturalist and author popularized natural history. His treatise Histoire Naturelle (Natural History) has appeared in several editions and has been translated into many languages. He was able to express complex ideas in a clear form, and his enthusiasm for the Jardin du Roi while he was keeper was so great that he made the gardens the centre of botanical research in France.
The founder of comparative anatomy, French naturalist Baron Georges Cuvier led the way in the reconstruction of vertebrate animals. He systematically classified molluscs, fish, and fossil mammals and reptiles. He wrote on the structure of living and fossil animals, and believed that the development of life on Earth was greatly affected by occasional catastrophes. With Alexandre Brongniart, he explored the geology of the Paris Basin.
A French mineralogist, geologist, and chemist, Brongniart was the first to develop a systematic study of trilobites and a system for the classification of reptiles. Working with Georges Cuvier, he pioneered stratigraphy, the examination of rock layers to reveal past environments and life forms. In 1822, Brongniart and Cuvier mapped the Tertiary strata of the Paris Basin and collected local fossils.
This English clergyman and geologist dedicated himself to a systematic examination of the geology of Great Britain. In 1819, he discovered the first Megalosaurus, although he did not recognize it as a dinosaur. He wrote extensively about his finds and his treatise Geology and Mineralogy (1836) went through three editions. In 1845, he was appointed Dean of Westminster Abbey.
A very successful doctor on the south coast of England, Mantell was also an amateur fossil hunter, one of the first in the world. His wife, Mary Ann Mantell, is thought to have found the first Iguanodon tooth in 1822, but it took many years for Mantell to establish its identity. He also discovered the first brachiosaur, Pelorosaurus, and Hylaeosaurus, an early ankylosaur.
A pioneering fossil collector, Anning’s father sold fossil specimens in Lyme Regis on the south coast of England. It was there that she discovered the first Ichthyosaurus in 1811, and went on to discover the first plesiosaur in 1821 and the first pterodactyl in 1828.
Trained as a doctor, Owen went on to become an expert in comparative anatomy. He worked for the British Museum and founded the Natural History Museum in London. A pioneer in vertebrate palaeontology, he conducted extensive research on extinct reptiles, mammals, and birds. He coined the word “dinosaur” in 1842, and was responsible for the first full-scale dinosaur reconstructions, which were displayed in Crystal Palace Gardens in London.
In 1826, Agassiz, a Swiss-American naturalist, was chosen to classify a large collection of fish that had been captured in the Amazon River region of Brazil, South America. He then researched in detail the extinct fish of Europe. By 1844, he was established as a pioneer in the study of extinct life, and had named nearly 1,000 fossil fish.
English naturalist Charles Darwin's ideas are now the cornerstone of palaeontological research worldwide. In 1831, he travelled to the Galapagos Islands aboard the HMS Beagle, as a naturalist for a surveying expedition. His observations on the relationship between living animals, newly extinct animals, and fossil finds led him to develop a theory of evolution, a theory that was very controversial at the time. He believed that species evolve by a process of natural selection. His theories were published in 1859, in On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, and The Descent of Man followed in 1871.
After studying geology and palaeontology in Germany, this American palaeontologist was appointed professor of palaeontology at Yale University in 1860. He persuaded his uncle, George Peabody, to establish the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, and organized scientific expeditions to the western states of the USA. He and his great rival, Edward Drinker Cope, dominated fossilhunting in the late 1880s. He named about 500 species of fossil animals. His finds include Pterodactylus, Apatosaurus, Allosaurus, and early horses.
Biologist Ernst Haeckel was the first prominent German to support Darwin's theories of evolution. He also drew up a genealogical tree, laying out the relationship between the various orders of animals. He coined the word "phylum" for the major group to which all related classes of organisms belong. He traced the descent of humans from single-celled organisms through chimpanzees and so-called Pithecanthropus erectus, which he saw as the link between apes and human beings.
This US scientist and dinosaur artist found the first US hadrosaur skeleton. The bones were found by workmen in New Jersey in 1838. Foulke heard of the discovery in 1858 and recognized its importance. Joseph Leidy named the dinosaur after him, as Hadrosaurus foulkii.
After teaching comparative zoology and botany in Pennsylvania from 1864 to 1867, Cope spent 22 years exploring the area between Texas and Wyoming, where he discovered several extinct species of fish, reptiles, and mammals. He worked for the US Geological Survey as a palaeontologist, studying the evolutionary history of the horse and of mammal teeth. He published more than 1,200 books and papers, and was the author of Cope’s Law, which stated that over time species tend to become larger. He is also remembered for his famous rivalry with Charles Othniel Marsh. His finds include Camarasaurus and Ceolophysis.
This Belgian civil engineer and palaeontologist was responsible for the first reconstruction of Iguanodon. In 1878, he worked alongside Louis De Pauw to study the Iguanodon skeletons found in a coalmine at the village of Bernissart in Belgium. He identified the thumb spike, which had originally been thought to be a horn. Dollo’s law states that organisms can evolve specializations, but that these are later lost. For example, horses cannot re-evolve the side toes that they have lost.
A Dutch anatomist and geologist, Dubois was interested in human evolution and in 1887, travelled to the East Indies to look for ancient human remains. In 1891, he discovered the remains of Java Man, the first known fossils of the early human Homo erectus. He found a one-million-year-old jaw fragment, skullcap, and thigh bone of a hominid that had distinctive brow ridges and a flat, receding forehead. He named it Pithecanthropus (“apeman”) erectus.
In 1900, when German naturalist Fraas was travelling through Tanzania (then called Tanganyika) he visited Tendaguru Hills and helped to excavate more than 250 tonnes of dinosaur bones. He also found Efraasia, a primitive plant-eating dinosaur named after him, in what is now Germany, and named Procompsognathus in 1915. With Charles Andrews he suggested that creodonts (primitive carnivores) were the ancestors of whales.
German palaeontologist Stromer discovered the first dinosaurs in Egypt between 1911 and 1914, in the Bahariya Oasis, southwest of Cairo. The original specimens of the spinosaurids that he found were destroyed in the Bayerische Staatssammnung Museum when Madrid was bombed in 1944. He later identified the giant meat-eater.
This US palaeontologist was one of the greatest dinosaur hunters of the 20th century. His finds include Ankylosaurus, Anchiceratops, Corythosaurus, Saurolophus, and the first Tyrannosaurus ever discovered. From 1910 to 1915, Brown recovered a spectacular variety of complete dinosaur skeletons from the Red Deer River in Alberta, Canada. In the 1930s, he excavated a wealth of Jurassic fossils at Howe Ranch, Wyoming. As assistant curator, Brown also acquired fossils from all over the world for the American Museum of Natural History. He worked not only throughout the United States, but in Canada, India, South America, and Ethiopia.
US biologist, explorer, author, and inventor. An enthusiastic fossil collector from childhood, Beebe was an explorer and naturalist who became curator of ornithology at New York Zoological Gardens in 1899. In 1915, he described a hypothetical ancestor to Archaeopteryx, which he called Tetrapteryx. He also proposed that the ornithomimosaur (bird mimic) dinosaurs, such as Deinocheirus, ate insects.
US naturalist Andrews graduated in 1906 and then went to Alaska and Japan on expeditions for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Between 1922 and 1925, he led four expeditions to the Gobi Desert in Outer Mongolia, where he pioneered the use of a new vehicle, the car, backed up by camel trains, to explore remote regions. His teams discovered the first-known fossilized dinosaur nests and hatchlings as well as the world’s first Velociraptor skeleton. He became the director of the AMNH in 1934. His other finds include Protoceratops, Oviraptor, and Saurornithoides.
Husband and wife team Louis and Mary proved with their fossil finds that human evolution was centred on Africa. These British anthropologists also proved that the human species was older than had been thought. They were working in the Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, in 1959, when Mary discovered a 1.7-million-year-old fossil hominid. Between 1960 and 1973, the Leakeys discovered remains of Homo habilis, which Louis theorized was a direct ancestor of modern humans. After their deaths, their son Richard Leakey (b.1944) continued their work. Finds include Proconsul, Australopithecus boisei, and Homo habilis.
Glaessner was an Australian geologist who produced the first detailed descriptions of the Precambian Ediacaran fossils from the Flinders Range mountains of southern Australia. In 1961, he recognized that the Ediacaran fossils were the oldest-known multicelled organisms.
This US father (geologist) and son (physicist) team publicized the discovery of a worldwide layer of clay rich in the rare element iridium. This element was present in rocks from the K-T boundary, the border between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods. They argued that the iridium was deposited when a meteorite hit the Earth. They speculated that this event may have been the reason the dinosaurs became extinct.
In 1956, this US palaeontologist discovered two-billion-year-old Precambrian gunflint fossils in Ontario. These are some of the best-preserved microfossils in the world and Barghoorn found them in silica-rich flint rocks. In 1968, he showed how fossils of biomolecules such as amino acids can be preserved in rocks.
A Polish palaeontologist, Kielan-Jaworowska was the first woman to organize and lead fossil-hunting expeditions to the Gobi Desert, which took place from 1963 to 1971. In Mongolia, she discovered sauropods, tarbosaurs, duckbilled dinosaurs, ostrich mimics, and rare mammals from the Cretaceous and early Tertiary. Her book Hunting for Dinosaurs (1969) has done much to popularize palaeontology worldwide, but particularly in Mongolia. Her finds include a Protoceratops fighting a juvenile Velociraptor.
This Argentinian palaeontologist has found and named many South American dinosaurs, including Mussaurus and Saltasaurus. In 1993, with Rodolfo Coria, he named Argentinosaurus.
Coria, an Argentinian palaeontologist, worked with José F. Bonaparte in Argentina, naming Argentinosaurus. He then went on to identify a giant predator, Gigantosaurus, whose remains were spotted in 1994 in the foothills of the Andes by an amateur fossil-hunter.
As Director of the Institute of Geology at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, this Mongolian palaeontologist discovered many new dinosaurs. Barsboldia, a 10 m- (30 ft-) long duck-billed dinosaur which lived in Mongolia in the Late Cretaceous, was named after him in 1981. His other finds include Conchoraptor, Anserimimus, and Gallimimus.
Dong, a Chinese palaeontologist, studied under the father of Chinese palaeontology, Yang Zhongdian. A prolific dinosaur fossil-hunter, Dong has led expeditions to the Gobi Desert and China’s Yunnan province. His finds include Yangchuanosaurus, Chungkingosaurus, and Archaoeceratops.
English palaeontologist Galton successfully demonstrated that hadrosaurs such as Maiasaura and Hadrosaurus did not drag their tails, but used them to act as a counterbalance to their heads. In the 1970s, he suggested that birds and dinosaurs should be grouped together as the Dinosauria. His other finds include Lesothosaurus and Aliwalia.
This charismatic US palaeontologist and film consultant has promoted a number of controversial and revolutionary theories, including that dinosaurs are the hot-blooded relatives of birds, rather than cold-blooded giant lizards. His reconstructions of dinosaurs show them standing upright, not dragging their tails. He has organized digs in many countries, including Colorado, Utah, and Montana in the USA, South Africa, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, and Canada. He has found the only complete Apatosaurus skull and a baby allosaur tooth in an Apatosaurus bone. As part of his mission to popularize dinosaurs, Bakker acted as consultant on Steven Spielberg’s film Jurassic Park. His other finds include a baby Tyrannosaurus and a Stegosaurus.
Clack examined Devonian fossils and showed that legs that evolved for navigating in water, later became adapted for walking on land. This English palaeontologist’s finding revolutionized theories about tetrapods, the first vertebrate animals that had legs. She also discovered Acanthostega and Eucritta.
In South Dakota in 1990, US marine archaeologist and fossil-hunter Hendrickson found the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus to date. The fossil is now displayed at the Chicago Field Museum and is known as “Sue”.
A Canadian palaeontologist, Currie is a curator at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, Drumheller in Canada, and a major research scientist. He has written a number of dinosaur books including Newest and Coolest Dinosaurs (1998). He specializes in Permian fossil reptiles including diapsid reptiles from Africa and Madagascar, and early kinds of synapsids from Europe and the USA. Finds include Caudipteryx.
Known for his work on the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale, English palaeontologist Briggs described a number of arthropods found there. The Burgess Shale is a 530-million-year-old mudstone deposit in British Columbia. He has discovered, with others, several Burgess Shale sites, showing that the animals found there were common inhabitants of the Cumbrian seas.
This French geologist worked on developing a complete picture of dinosaur evolution in Thailand. He discovered the oldest known sauropod dinosaur, Isanosaurus attavipachi from the Upper Triassic, and numerous dinosaur fossil footprints. In Europe, he found a giant pterosaur with a wingspan of 9 m (19.5 ft). He also found the first late Cretaceous birds in France.
Sereno, a US palaeontologist, has discovered dinosaurs on five continents. He named the oldest-known dinosaur, Eoraptor, and found the first complete skull of Herrerasaurus in the foothills of the Andes in Argentina. His team also found Afrovenator and the gigantic skull of Carcharodontosaurus in the Sahara. He has also been on expeditions to the Gobi Desert and India. He has rearranged the dinosaur family tree, reorganizing the ornithischians and naming the clade Cerapoda.
Argentinian vertebrate palaeontologist, and curator of vertebrate palaeontology at the Los Angeles County Museum, Chiappe is one of the world’s leading authorities on ancient birds, and on the relationship between birds and dinosaurs. In 1998, in the Rio Colorado region of Patagonia, Chiappe’s team unearthed thousands of Titanosaurus eggshells and the first dinosaur embryos to be found in the southern hemisphere. They also found the first identified eggs belonging to sauropods.