STL Science Center

STL Science Center

04 February 2016

Famous in Error

Serendipaceratops is not necessarily a tragic tale of errors and mistakes, but it could be said to be a cautionary tale on both sides of the debate about the validity of the taxon. There are far better examples (e.g. named dinosaur genera such as Triceratops and Nannotyrannus) but the message is the same regardless. That message is, to put it in the most basic terms, take paleontology and fossils with a healthy level of skepticism. Fossils are difficult to describe and at times are very hard to diagnose and place within genera, let alone species. I have personal experience with the description of fossils (a publication that I have unjustly put on the back burner for the moment) and I promise that fragmentary evidence is simultaneously exciting and frustrating. The excitement of fragments, like the ulna of Serendipaceratops, lies in the fact that one is holding a small percentage of a dinosaur and attempting to use the collective knowledge of many paleontologists, plus their own expertise in the case of well-traveled scientists like Rich and Vickers-Rich, and attempting to suss out what that fragment of animal represents as a whole organism. The frustration actually stems from the exact same source; sussing out such things from fragments can be horrendous. The fame of Serendipaceratops is deeply embedded in the mystery and intrigue of its description and missing  anatomy. Enjoy Serendipaceratops for what it really is: a fossil with uncertain origins that is in debate but certainly has a storied past that makes more and more people want to know more about paleontology and its history.

No comments:

Post a Comment