Tuesday, March 18, 2008
An Edmontosaurus named Dakota
It's no secret that I find ornithopods extremely boring. Even the crested forms are, apart from their unique headgear, fairly vanilla. When "Dakota," a mumified duckbill, was announced last year, a media frenzy soon followed. Brian has covered this story in far more detail, and today he revealed to the masses that Dakota is...*drumroll please*...
An Edmontosaurus. No species name is given. This fossil has been known since 1999, its genus was just released today, and its species is still unconfirmed. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and suggest that it's E. annectens, a species known from North Dakota already.
I'm extremely confused by the media frenzy that's swept the nation over this mummy. Dinosaur mummies are rare, sure, but without any kind of study, there's not much to go nuts about. As Brian notes, it's curious that not a single peer-reviewed publication exists about Dakota, yet two books have been penned (one of them a kid's book, one an awful popular science book). The National Geographic channel has aired two specials about Dakota, too.
Dakota needs to be studied and published. As I mentioned to my father-in-law, the fanfare surrounding Dakota seems to be in reverse to the usual way things are done. That is, a fossil is found, a publication is prepared (sometimes years later), and a press conference is held very near the publication date. That way, both the public and the paleontologists get to have as much in-depth information on the new find as they want. But all we know for sure about Dakota is that she's an Edmontosaurus and that she's got some preserved muscle and skin.
Remember Leonardo? He was a virtually complete Brachylophosaurus with LOTS of fossilized soft tissue (including evidence for a thick, deep neck in duckbills) but didn't generate half the frenzy that Dakota is now kicking up. And now Brian tells us that Dakota might be taken on a whirlwind world tour, which is a horrible idea. That would further delay study of the fossil! It's almost as if the paleontologists who found Dakota (or, more cynically, the National Geographic Foundation) does not want Dakota studied until they've made a few bucks off her.
You know how movies that are "not screened for critics" are generally awful? I wonder if that's somehow the case here. Maybe Dakota is all smoke and mirrors, and her remains just aren't that great, but we'll never know, because apparently nobody can publish a paper on her!