Monday, July 18, 2011

Cruising the Cretaceous of Queensland: Student Edition

Earlier this month – July 4-8, 2011 – was my third time to see the wondrous Cretaceous fossils of Queensland, Australia. But it was my first with university students in tow to share in that paleontologically inspired excitement. Our trip together to outback Queensland was during the third week of a five-week program for Emory University students taking a study-abroad program in Australia, taught by me and my good friend (and oh yeah, colleague) Steve Henderson from Oxford College of Emory. We did this trip to give them a taste of what life was like in the modern-day outback and 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous Period, when theropod dinosaurs like Australovenator wintonensis (“Banjo”) likely chowed down on hapless ornithopod dinosaurs, and the whopping pliosaur Kronosaurus queenlandicus was ruling the inland seaway that covered much of the area we saw during our trip.

Paleontological innocents abroad, about to get acquainted with the past lives of outback Queensland. And who could resist posing with a life-sized recreation of the large ornithopod dinosaur Muttaburrasaurus langdoni, located in Hughenden, Queensland? Well, OK, I told them their grades depended on it, so they quickly got into the spirit of things.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Teaching the Past, Cretaceous and Other Times

It’s a safe generalization to say that academic paleontologists devote much of their time and energy to educating non-paleontologists about the wonders of past lives. This lofty goal might be accomplished in an official capacity as a university professor or a museum researcher, or unofficially through public speaking, publishing popular-outreach books, or – to be totally modern, hip, and self-referential – writing a blog. In this instance, I am mixing official and unofficial duties by sharing a few of my experiences with teaching paleontology to undergraduate students at my university (Emory) during a study-abroad program in Queensland, Australia.

A happy group of American university students, which is as they should be, because they are in Queensland, Australia learning about its paleontology. Little do they know their state of fossil-induced bliss is about to be interrupted by a lurking Early Cretaceous pliosaur, Kronosaurus, inexplicably occupying an aerial environment and in the present. (I’ve been trying to tell them all along that some things are worse than a failing grade.) Photo taken by me at the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville.