What to learn more about dinosaurs?
Welcome to the Natural History of Dinosaurs.
My name is Benjamin Burger.
I’m a paleontologist teaching at Utah State University, at the Uintah Basin campus located
in Vernal Utah.
Right in the heart of Utah’s dinosaur country.
series of lectures we will cover many details about the Natural History of Dinosaurs.
Who were the dinosaurs?
How did they evolved over the Millions of Years they lived on Earth?
And look at dinosaurs with a clear scientific examination.
How we know they existed, and how we can better reconstruct their lives from fossilized remains
buried in the rocks.
Before going on with this series, I would like to introduce myself to you, and outline
my qualifications for teaching a class on dinosaurs.
I’ve always been interested in rocks and fossils since I was a little kid.
My room growing up in Colorado was a little museum of rocks and minerals I’d collected
Early on I knew that I wanted to study geology, and in particular paleontology.
After high school, I attended the University of Colorado, and enrolled in every course
that would enable me to be a stellar paleontologist, including courses in both the geology and
After my second year at college I spend a summer in Wyoming, collecting vertebrate fossils
and helping on a graduate student’s research project in the Bridger Basin of Wyoming.
It was there that I meet my girlfriend and later my wife.
The following year, I spent writing an undergraduate thesis on a small fossil mammal known from
the same rock units.
Using hundreds of fossil jaws and teeth, I determined how the various species evolved
and changed with the different layers in the rocks.
I saw how species changed both gradually and abruptly, due to ecological changes to the
environment, over the space of several million years.
The next summer, I was lucky enough to accompany a professor and fellow students to southeastern
Colorado, where we documented dinosaur sites for the United States Military, as part of
a survey of paleontological resources on lands managed by the Army.
It was a fun summer, and taught me a great deal about how to find dinosaur fossils.
After I graduated, I followed my girlfriend east, and enrolled at Stony Brook University
in New York to study Anatomy.
Anatomy is important to clearly understand if you are interested in dinosaurs.
In fact many of the world’s experts in dinosaur paleontology teach at Medical Universities,
because knowing the anatomy of a human, also gives you greater insight in understanding
in the reconstruction of dinosaurs from fossilized bones.
I spent two years dissecting human cadavers, but during the summer, I would return to Wyoming
and collect fossils for the American Museum of Natural History, in New York City.
After leaving Stony Brook with a Masters Degree, I was extremely fortunate to get a full time
job at the American Museum in New York.
My job was to catalogue, database and photograph the dinosaur collections there.
The next five years I spent looking at each dinosaur fossil, and getting to know the collections
inside and out.
The job was really challenging.
First many dinosaurs are really big, and photographing their bones is hard, especially dinosaur fossils
that are dissembled or fragmentary that are not on public display.
The second challenge was how vast the museum’s collection is.
The museum is one of the oldest museums in the United States, scientists there have discovered
many of the most famous dinosaurs, such as Tyrannosaurus rex, and my discoveries in the
Gobi Desert of Mongolia, such as Velociraptor.
In 2001 and 2002, I traveled to Egypt, and collected fossils in Al Fayyum with a team
of international paleontologists.
I decided that although I loved working at a museum, my heart was really in fieldwork
and leading expeditions of my own.
I was also interested in fossil mammals, particularly in studying what happened after the extinction
of the dinosaurs.
So I returned to school, to pursue a PhD degree.
I returned to Colorado, and studied under some of the world’s best experts in paleontology.
I spent five years conducting fieldwork in Western Colorado, collecting and documenting
fossils across the Paleocene –Eocene boundary and how mammals responded to a warming climate.
During the school year I also taught field geology, and fell in love with teaching.
In the end I produced a 785 page dissertation.
After I graduated in early 2009, the country fell into an economic depression.
Many museums funding dried up, and no museum or university was hiring at the time.
I moved to Utah, and started working surveying and salvaging fossils on government lands
for various private industrial projects, in mostly oil and gas development on public lands
in Utah, but also highway projects.
The experience gave me access to some amazing places.
It was a blast to figure out what fossils were present and where they could be found
in each projects location.
I worked in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah primarily, and all the fossils I collected ended up at
Many paleontologists I know work in this capacity, in part from a quirk in the federal law that
was decided over a hundred years ago, here in Vernal Utah, which states that fossils
are owned by the surface owner or managing agency, and not considered mineral resources.
In 2009, my wife started teaching at Utah State University a course on Human Anatomy,
and in the fall of 2011, I was extremely lucky to also get a job teaching geology at USU,
here in Vernal Utah.
Since then, I’ve taught many courses in paleontology, beyond just dinosaurs.
I’ve also been leading a number of paleontological digs in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, uncovering
new fossil discoveries, and mentoring graduate students.
I lead my own expeditions each summer where I look for mammal fossils spanning the period
from 60 to 35 million years ago.
It has been a wonderful journey, and I really look forward to teaching you about dinosaurs.
Now before I sign off I wanted to give you a quick lesson on what dinosaur are and what
will be covered in this video series.
Dinosaurs are ancestral to living birds, and are also related to living crocodiles.
They encompass about 700 to 800 species of extinct animals, which first evolved during
the late Triassic about 235 million years ago.
We will discuss their origin and evolution throughout the Mesozoic, including examining
the origin of early birds during that period as well.
The term Dinosauria, which means Terrible Lizards was first coined by the British Anatomist
Sir Richard Owen in 1842, for three fossil discoveries in England and Europe Megalosaurus,
Iguanodon, and Hylaeosaurus.
Not all dinosaurs are big giants, many are small and resemble birds, in fact the Dinosauria
branch of the tree, also includes birds.
So birds technically are living dinosaurs.
In this series we will examine mostly the nonavian- dinosaurs, but will spend some time
looking at the origin and early evolution of birds as well.
In fact, this series we will examine Mesozoic dinosaurs pretty exclusively, those are the
dinosaurs that lived from 235 to 66 million years ago, during the Triassic, Jurassic and
Cretaceous Periods of the Mesozoic Era.
These series is designed for students interesting in dinosaurs, but aren’t really experts
in the field, and just want to learn more about these creatures and what we know about
And hopefully inspire you to become more knowledgeable about our Earth’s ancient past.
I hope that you enjoy this series.
And look forward to seeing you in the next video.