Focal point for dinosaur researchers
Jan Ove Ebbestad is Curator at the Museum of Evolution at Uppsala University. We spoke with him recently to learn more about the museum’s work with dinosaur research.
How did Uppsala become a focal point for dinosaur researchers?
“We have unique collections that attract both our own researchers and guest researchers. Professor Per Ahlberg, who studies fossil vertebrates, has been building up a laboratory here at Uppsala University over the past few years.
“We also get regular visitors to the museum’s collections, but it’s mostly researchers and post-docs who are affiliated with Per Ahlberg’s laboratory.”
What is special about Uppsala University’s collection?
“It is unique because it is the largest collection of fossil vertebrates from China anywhere in the world outside Chinese borders. The collection isn’t large, but it is of very high quality – almost everything is genuine material. One of the dinosaurs we have is an Euhelopus. Described in 1929, it was one of the very first Chinese species to be documented.”
How many dinosaurs are there here?
“We have four nearly complete specimens, and bones and fragments from a dozen more. In the 1920s, a large collection of dinosaur fossils was acquired from China and another collection from New Mexico in the United States. More recently, we’ve acquired fragments of dinosaurs found in Skåne and in the summer of 2016, we got in fossils from Greenland.
“Before there was a research environment in Uppsala, it was visiting researchers who studied the vertebrate collections. In recent years, we’ve been conducting research at the University as well.”
Is there much left to research?
“Sure, these are beautiful fossils, so there are no limits to research. There are so few dinosaur skeletons in the world that researchers need to make comparisons with skeletons in Uppsala, so this will always serve as reference material. Because the collection is the only one if its kind, it will never become outdated. It will always form the basis for new research.
“The research is about evolution and the relationship between different groups of dinosaurs. The latest study by Stephen Poropat and his team opens up a whole new field. Very often, you have to rethink things when new evidence is brought to light and our dinosaurs may just get a new spot on the family tree.”
13 January 2017