Fossil Lab

I joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1987, developing in stages what has become the Fossil Lab, located just off campus in Washington Park. In the 1950s the university closed its Walker Museum, thereby eliminating its paleontology lab and dispersing its fossil and recent collections. The lab and collections needed rebuilding, if one was to engage in a serious field program.


South America

My field work began in the foothills of the Andes in Argentina in 1988, where I discovered skeletons of the earliest dinosaur, including dog-sized Eoraptor ("dawn raptor") and Eodromaeus ("dawn runner"). We dated (radiometrically) those horizons for the first time (231.4 Ma) and described the mixed archosaur-synapsid fauna and paleoenvironments that once existed in southern Pangaea at the dawn of the dinosaur era (early Late Truassic).



Later, on expeditions to India, my teams discovered fossils of a new dinosaur, Rajasaurus (“princely reptile”), the first predatory dinosaur skull for India. In a remote corner of the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia (China), we discovered a herd of subadult ornithomimid dinosaurs, named Sinornithosaurus (“Chinese bird mimic”), that died in their tracks, mired in mud 90 million years ago. To this day, it comprises the only provable instantaneous population of dinosaurs ever discovered. On an expedition to Tibet at an elevation of 13,000 feet, we rediscovered a site that yielded an as yet unnamed, new long-necked dinosaur, fossilized originally on an island in the Tethys Sea.



Starting in the early 1990's, I launched expeditions to the Sahara to beds of Jurassic and Cretaceous age, excavating more than 100 tons of fossils and bringing to light a menagerie of new species including long-necked herbivores like Nigersaurus (“Niger reptile”), meat-eaters like Afrovenator (“African hunter”) and Rugops (“rough face”), and the bizarre huge-clawed fish-eaters Suchomimus (“crocodile mimic”) and Spinosaurus ("spined reptile").  Other discoveries include the world's largest crocodile, the 40-foot-long “SuperCroc” (Sarcosuchus), the fanged, horned “BoarCroc” (Kaprosuchus), and a pterosaur (winged reptile) with a 15-foot wingspan.


In 2000 I discovered Gobero, the richest archaeological site in the Sahara. Dating to a time before the pyramids, the site documents cultures that thrived for millennia as hunter-fisher-gatherers. In 2006 I excavated the most posed burial in all of prehistory —a triple burial of a mother and two children holding hands. It was dubbed the “Stone Age Embrace.”