Record Dino Trove in Mongolia
67 dinosaurs in a week: that’s what diggers from Montana State University found in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. The team effort was led by veteran dinosaurologist Jack Horner. Most skeletons were Psittacosaurs, thought to be predecessors of the horned ceratopsids, like Triceratops. Seeking to understand the developmental biology of dinosaurs, the team was less interested in new species than lots of specimens of one species: “Horner wants a large number of fossils so he can compare variations between skeletons and changes during growth.”
The press release mentioned nothing specific about evolution, nor about how these skeletons became buried in such large numbers. The one picture shows the hunters working in an arid, desert environment that must be very different from the world in which these dinosaurs perished. Lecture notes from Columbia University and from a 2001 expedition to the area claim the creatures were buried in shallow lake bed sediments.
Imagine a peaceful herd of dinosaurs grazing by the lake bed, then deciding to die en masse and cover themselves with sediments. If that does not happen today, it probably didn’t back then, either.
Evolutionary stories and timelines are not essential to the scientific process of discovering, describing, identifying, cataloging and gaining insight into the growth and development of dinosaurs. Did psittocosaurs gradually evolve into ceratopsids over millions of years? The bones cannot confirm such notions. What they can do, though, is constrain the imaginations of scientists who weren’t there and don’t know everything. Go get ’em, hunters.