William Flew Dinosaurs

December 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Palaeontologist Jack Horner looks for lost types of dinosaur, and even inspired a starring character in Jurassic Park

When did you first fall in love with dinosaurs and why?

The first dinosaur bone I found was at the age of 8. I grew up in Montana, in America, where dinosaur bones are exposed on the ground. My father remembered riding a horse across ranch land and seeing big bones sticking out, so he took me to find the place. I still have that bone, it’s on my desk now and I still don’t really know what it is.

What has been your most exciting dinosaur discovery to date?

Finding the first dinosaur embryos in the world — little dinosaur skeletons inside intact eggs — in Montana. It was a little meat-eating dinosaur called Troodon, and because of that find we now know a great deal about it.

You are dyslexic and don’t have a university degree. How did you do it?

I don’t read books. Reading is the hardest thing I do. But, as I tell my students, if you do something first you don’t have to get anyone else’s information.

You’ve even named some dinosaurs. How many?

If you find a new dinosaur you can name it, and I’ve found about a dozen. All scientific names must be in Latin, so the best way is to think of a characteristic that dinosaur might have had. The first dinosaur I named was Maiasaura — “mother reptile”— because it was the first dinosaur that showed parental care.

Is it hard work digging in the desert?

You have to be in good shape because sometimes it’s hot, or freezing, or you’re in the Gobi Desert and it takes three days to get to the site. But, you know, it’s an adventure. We camp and cook on a campfire. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

What are you uncovering now?

I’ve got about 30 people out in the field, looking in four different places here in Montana and in Mongolia. In Montana they are excavating Triceratops and a new species of duck-billed dinosaur.

What was it like working with Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park?

I wouldn’t trade my work for the movie business because I think palaeontology is more fun, but it was good to work on Jurassic Park. I worked with the sculptors to make sure the dinosaurs were accurate.

Are you helping on Jurassic Park 4?

Filming hasn’t started yet but I will do, yes. I’m working on a TV programme with Steven now, called Terra Nova.

Are there still a lot of dinosaurs to discover?

Absolutely. I think we have found less than 10 per cent of all the kinds of dinosaur there are to be discovered.

How can kids discover them?

There are lots of dinosaur bones and fossils in Britain — on the Isle of Wight especially. Just get a geological map and walk around looking down.

The Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy is available on Blu-ray now

Did you know?

The remains of 108 species of dinosaur have been found in Britain, including Megalosaurus, Iguanodon, Neovenator and Eotyrannus.

The heaviest dinosaur was Brachiosaurus — at 80 tonnes, as heavy as 17 African elephants. The dinosaur with the longest name isMicropachycephalosaurus, or “tiny thick-headed lizard”

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