Thursday, 15 December 2011

Uncovering Spinops

As most of you are all aware, there was yet another new ceratopsian announced last week and Spinops sternbergorum has now taken its place amongst a plethora of recently announced horned dinosaurs. I’ve known about Spinops’ existence for some time now, for reasons which will become apparent, and I was very pleased to finally see the official announcement last week. I love the way that news of newly announced dinosaurs travels across the globe almost instantly these days and the buzz created is palpable.

I first became aware that there was possibly a new ceratopsian in the vaults of the Natural History Museum in London (NHM) back in 2007. I’d met Mark Graham during the same year, whilst prospecting at Misty Bluff Quarry and we soon became good friends. Mark, at the time was a volunteer preparator at the NHM and told me that he hoped to be commissioned to prepare some “unusual” ceratopsian material that, although it looked initially a bit like Styracosaurus, could actually represent a new species.

I was intrigued and at the same time that Mark began looking at the material, a revision of the type specimen of Styracosaurus albertensis was published near the turn of the year (Ryan et al 2007) and thinking that it would be of help, I sent a copy off to Mark. I was too late – Mark had already received it and was already engrossed in it! Things started to move on.

In June 2008 Mark commenced work on the specimen and, in his own words:

The specimens (which were from a bone bed) were prepared by me in 2008/09 and the two large parietal elements were encased in extremely hard iron-rich matrix and heavy plaster of Paris jackets. The bone itself was significantly fractured - so much so that the combination of unyielding rock and fragile bone made for an interesting (not to say nerve-wracking at times!) project. The images show some of the preparation work and protective jacketing made for the specimens, together with a couple of images from the last day, in March 2009, when it was all completed.

A particular challenge was the removal of matrix from around the cores of the pro-curved parietal hooks, which actually displayed some lovely detail, and also from around the epiparietal, which was dangerously thin.

I’m thrilled that my first involvement with a scientific publication should be on such a significant specimen as Spinops.”

I am personally delighted for Mark, not only because he is a damned good preparator, but because he really is a nice guy and deserves his joint authorship. I hope it is the first of many for him. Incidentally, Mark is also involved in the instigation of a new volunteer programme at the NHM and the first workers have now begun preparation of sauropod material collected in the 1980’s and, as Mark points out:

“Another “new” dinosaur may soon see the light of day!”

Amen to that!


The images here are reproduced with permission and are not to be used elsewhere without consent.


  A new centrosaurine from the Late Cretaceous of Alberta, Canada, and the evolution of parietal ornamentation in horned dinosaurs. Andrew A. Farke, Michael J. Ryan, Paul M. Barrett, Darren H. Tanke, Dennis R. Braman, Mark A. Loewen, and Mark R. Graham. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 56 (4), 2011: 691-702 doi:10.4202/app.2010.0121

Ryan, M.J., Holmes, R., and Russel, A.P. 2007. A revision of the late Campanian centrosaurine ceratopsids genus Styracosaurus from the western Interior of North America. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 27: 944-962.


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