Research advances are not just made in the field, but also by collecting data from other museum collections. Scott Rufolo brought useful information back for the Canadian Museum of Nature from recent travels.
This autumn, I attended a meeting of the International Council for Archaeozoology, which was held in Mendoza Province of Argentina. I will talk about this experience in a future entry, but for now, I’d like to share some tales of my palaeontological adventures in Argentina.
Being in that country for the conference afforded me the opportunity to make a professional visit to Museo de La Plata, South America’s largest natural-history museum, as well as take some vacation time in order to explore several of Argentina’s other wonderful museums and palaeontological sites.
As a research assistant with the Palaeobiology Section of the Canadian Museum of Nature, I work closely with our dinosaur palaeontologist Jordan Mallon in order to support his research endeavours. Jordan is particularly interested in the ecological role of the feeding behaviours of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs found in Alberta, and so is always on the lookout for new data concerning the teeth, jaws and skull shape of the various species of duck-billed and horned dinosaurs that once roamed western Canada.
The size of the teeth and the bones of the skull may be related to the mechanics of biting and chewing, so measurements may furnish information about the probable diet of these herbivorous animals.
In the first half of the 20th century, the Royal Ontario Museum traded the fossil skulls of three Canadian dinosaurs, two ceratopsians (the horned dinosaurs) and one hadrosaurid (a duck-billed dinosaur), for specimens from South America. Two of these, examples of Centrosaurus apertus and Prosaurolophus maximus sent to Argentina in 1944, wound up at Museo de La Plata in the city of La Plata, located southeast of Buenos Aires.
The whereabouts of the third—a Chasmosaurus skull traded around 1932—are unknown, but it is likely in either Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro. No descriptions or measurements of these specimens have been published to date.
Founded in 1888, Museo de La Plata [website in Spanish] houses over three million natural-history specimens and archaeological objects. The beautiful building sports a neoclassical exterior that shelters an interior replete with many architectural elements and exhibition cases that preserve their Victorian-era charm.
The Centrosaurus and Prosaurolophus skulls were put on display for the first time during a renovation of the palaeontology halls about 10 years ago, where they remain today. I was able to examine and measure them on a Monday, when the museum is closed to the public.
Neither had been cleaned since initially being placed on display, however, so there was quite a layer of dust coating them. In fact, such an amazing amount of dust can accumulate in a decade that it was (almost) like having to excavate them all over again! Through much sneezing and watering of the eyes, I measured, drew and photographed the two skulls.
The resulting metrical data will be added to Jordan’s database for Late Cretaceous dinosaurs of North America, and we also hope to generate three-dimensional computer models of the skulls from the photographs. Moreover, I dutifully set the collections manager for vertebrate palaeontology at the museum on the hunt for any information that he may be able to find about the location of the missing third skull. Hopefully, he will soon report back with some useful information dredged up from the museum’s archives and gleaned from conversations with South American colleagues.
Before leaving Argentina, I was able to visit several sites in Mendoza Province with exposed tetrapod trackways dating to the Permian Period (approximately 250 to 300 million years ago).
These sites record the footprints of a variety of early reptiles, and are located in a region with spectacular landscapes and geology.
In Buenos Aires, I was certain to spend a day at the Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum, whose exhibitions include mounts of many of the distinct species of South American dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals.
I leave you with more photos to enjoy from my travels to these places—quite a few, in fact. I hope you’ll forgive me, but Argentina is blessed with a wealth of natural beauty and great museums, so it was hard to limit myself to just a small number.
Next time, I’ll share some pictures of the flora and fauna I encountered, including a bold, cookie-eating troop of coatis and a tiny relative of the guinea pig that raided our lunch with just as much gusto!