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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Paleofest 2012 - Day 1

Well, it's been a long day, I've been up since 8:30AM (early for me) with on/off sleep, and even though I'm worn out, I'm posting this for you. That's my daily sacrifice. Enjoy. :)

It seems every year that Paleofest keeps getting better and that held true for 2012, the 14th annual Paleofest, of which I have attended eight. Many big names were there, but I'll go in chronological order.

The first lecture we attended was one on the Hot Springs of South Dakota, USA, hosted by Dr. Larry Agenbroad, who shared how they started and what they have found. The site was yielded 84 species of wildlife, including their famous mammoths, such as "Napoleon Bone-Apart", an oxymoron apparently, "Winston", and "Murray Antoinette". Camels, llamas, short-faced bears, wolves, and many more have been discovered. The lecture was interesting and revealed several different facts I previously did not know, considering I'm more of a dinosaur expert. For example, all the mammoths known at Hot Springs are male and 87% of them range from ages 12-29. Another interesting fact: woolly mammoths have longer tusks because they would have apparently used them less, then say, Columbian mammoths, which often suffered from broken tusks.

The 2nd lecture was the one I looked forward to most, for it was hosted by the legendary Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. His lecture about carnivorous dinosaurs was entertaining, especially since like all of our speakers, he threw in a bunch of jokes and cartoons, mainly about tyrannosaurs, as well as Carney the Carnotaurus. Holtz said that they are two hunting methods we usually see in large carnivores - the bite and slice method, and then the puncture and pull method favored by the tyrannosaurs. I talked to Holtz several times throughout the day; if you ever get a chance to talk to him, do it. Holtz was very friendly and managed to withstand through all my questions and comments, such as me inquiring about the unnamed oviraptorosaurs featured in the illustrations of his book, and the Triebold caenagnathid (or elmisaurine, whichever rocks your boat, I personally prefer the latter but call them caenagnathids out of habit), and then wondering what working on Dinosaur Revolution was like. Dr. Holtz described it as "interesting, yet strange", considering he, a Maryland resident, had to contact through the other team members from LA, through Skype and how he was disappointed that some scenes didn't make the cut, including one about Iguanodon. He remarked there were going to be more ornithischian segments (which would be awesome) but due to a limited budget, the 6 hours was shrunk to 4 hours.

After a quick lunch of hot dogs, chips, and brownies, we headed back down to the lower level to our 2:00 lecture about the rise of modern amphibians, the speaker of which was Jason Anderson. Anderson is also an expert in early ichthyosaurs, which also would have been a definitely interesting lecture, considering the strangeness of early ichthyosaurs (seriously, just look up Shastasaurus or Utatsusaurus). Anderson explained about the temnospondyls and lepospondyls, and the ongoing controversy; did the lissamphibians rise from the former, the latter, or both? Gerobatrachus, a temnospondyl also known as the "Frogamander" shows several characteristics similar to frogs and salamanders today.

The next lecture was at 3:30, hosted by Lawrence Witmer. Scott Williams, the person in charge of all this, remarked how you can not watch a dinosaur documentary on Discovery Channel without seeing Witmer, Holtz, or Scott Sampson. Witmer discussed his "The Visible Dinosaur" project, where they're reconstructing soft tissues and muscles in dinosaurs, the poster child of which was Majungasaurus during the presentation. He informed of us of how they go about it, such as looking at modern relatives like crocodiles and birds, and scanning them in CT scans. Witmer's team has a Facebook account and Youtube channel, something for all of us to check into.

Besides the speakers, we ran into several other respectful names in the paleontology field. William Hammer was there again, and he shared with me, as well as Dr. Holtz, about some awesome finds he has unearthed that will be in the news in maybe another year. Which reminds me, Tyler Keillor, paleoartist who has previously been featured on this blog, confided in me some secret projects of his own, of animals soon to be in the press. Keep your eyes peeled. Matt Bonnan showed up again, discoverer of Aardonyx, and so did tomorrow's speakers, including featured speaker Scott Sampson, who signed my book. I'll talk about him more in-depth tomorrow when I attend his lecture.

Above all, I'd have to thank the Burpee Museum at Rockford for hosting this extraordinary event, and my father for taking me every year. Burpee Museum has a steadily growing collection; anyone in the area should know it's worth a visit.

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