Thursday, 7 April 2011

Book Review - New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs

Time for a book review and this time it’s New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs, which encompasses the proceedings from the Royal Tyrrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium. I knew that the symposium had been a great success and the news that a volume of papers was being prepared sparked interest from all over the world. Although my primary interests have always resided with theropods, I never the less have considerable interests in all dinosaurs and, as the rumour mill got into overdrive regarding the book, I knew it was a volume I had to have.

 Although the symposium was in 2007, the volume was eventually published during spring last year and the book soon landed on my doorstep. I did well – I received my copy across the pond quicker than some of my colleagues in the US. And what a book it is! It is huge with a massive 624 pages and the dustcover, with a wonderful Chasmosaurus by Donna Sloan , is stunning. Quickly breezing through the book I knew that I held a work of some significance.

 As is generally well known now, ceratopsian research has entered something of a renaissance during the last few years with more students, as well as established researchers, now engaged in significant, sometime state-of-the-art, investigation into all aspects of these fascinating horned dinosaurs. Indeed, as many bloggers have noted, 2010 was widely regarded as the year of the ceratopsia and the momentum shows no sign of abating.

The book itself is very well put together and is broken into five sections. Peter Dodson is generally acknowledged (by most of us!) as the undisputed king of ceratopsian research and, in the opening section, Peter describes the evolution of that research from its initial beginnings through to the hotbed that it is today. Peter’s magnificent enthusiasm reaches out and grabs you and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this volume spawns yet more workers who specialise in ceratopsians.

Section 2 is primarily concerned with introducing ten new taxa and some of these are pretty spectacular animals. Diabloceratops is worthy of mention in this respect and is a magnificent animal. Paul Sereno’s in depth look at Psittacosaurus is admirable work and I found the new chasmosaurine, Medusaceratops, particularly interesting and this taxon now represents the oldest chasmosaurine known, at circa 77.5 million years old.

Section 3 turned out to be my favourite part in the book and there is some seriously good work here dealing with biology, anatomy and behavioural inferences. I like John Happ’s work and his paper looking at the structure and function of the horns of Triceratops is excellent. The paper is based on a specimen (SUP 9713.0) recovered from the Hell Creek Formation in Garfield County, Montana which was a 70% complete skull with some very fine detail preserved.

Using a combination of electron microscopy and computerized tomography revealed that the inner horn core was surrounded by a keratinous sheath and that there was a heavily vascularised bone layer situated between. As there is a similar vascularised area at the base of the horn core, it appears that a network of veins flowed up and around the horns back to the brain cavity and it seems likely that the horns may have been used for thermoregulatory purposes. I would never have suspected that and is extremely interesting.

Other top papers in this section are Nick Longrich’s assertion that Protoceratops was nocturnal (really good work), Ford and Martin’s semi-aquatic psittacosaurs and Tanke and Rothchild’s look at paleopathologies in ceratopsians from Alberta and the implications, therein, for intraspecific behaviour such as head butting and flank butting. In fact this whole section is absolutely brilliant and is required reading.

Section 4 was yet another superb section and featured papers on diversity, distribution and taphonomy. A few papers here focus on ceratopsian bonebeds and reveal some fascinating insights. Hunt and Farke imply that some bonebeds appear to be the result of animals gathering together in a stressed environment as opposed to genuine herding although this is quantified by the fact that other bonebeds provide no clues one way or the other. As with all issues of this kind, intraspecific behaviour, however complex, can only be inferred.

Several bonebeds maybe actually be one mega-sized bone bed containing the remains of Centrosaurus apertus individuals numbering into the low thousands, according to Eberth, Brinkman and Barkas. The authors, this time, do interpret this enormous gathering of centrosaurs as, at the very least, suggestive of large scale migration. Kirkland and Bader’s look at insect trace fossils found in association with Protoceratops remains is also fascinating. I’m a huge admirer of Julia Sankey and her work with microvertebrates and this paper is no exception as she reveals a rich and varied paleocommunity within mixed bonebeds containing fossils of Agujaceratops mariscalensis that are found in Upper Cretaceous deposits of Big Bend National Park, Texas. There are other equally interesting papers in this section in what is yet again a superb section overall.

The final section features a couple of fascinating papers of a historical nature concerning the relocation of a lost Centrosaurus excavated by William Cutler back in 1912 by Darren Tanke and Jack Horner’s take as to why there have been so few juvenile Triceratops recovered over the years – in fact there has been. The accompanying CD- ROM features an astonishing record of ceratopsian discoveries over the years and an incredibly detailed chronological record of ceratopsid discovery from Alberta by Ford and Tanke respectively. An afterword by Phil Currie ends the volume.

A huge well done to all the contributors to this volume, the reviewers and also Patty Ralrick, who was acting editorial assistant. And even bigger congratulations to Michael Ryan, Brenda Chinnery-Allgeier and David Eberth for putting it all together.

In conclusion then, at $110 (£74) retail, this is a lot of money for a book. But you shouldn’t pay that. Indiana University Press (IUP) often runs promotions with various discounts and I bought my copy with a 60% discount. Be patient and you will get it at a reduced price and I cannot emphasise enough that you get a lot of book for your money.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. Remember that this book is extremely technical and should not be considered a book for a general audience. The quality of the work is phenomenal and the book has moved paper presentation in book form to a new level. The Tyrrell hosts a Hadrosaur Symposium later this year and I know that a similar volume is already in the pipeline and I hope that this will be as equally as impressive.

I have seen the future of how palaeontology volumes should be produced in the future and it is, very much, New Perspectives. Get it!

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