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Pursuing prehistory: the global search of David Evans.

Within the pale yellow walls of the ROM's vertebrate palaeontology lab, David Evans and his ROM colleagues work on fossils that have been collected from all over the world. Giant dinosaur bones encased in plaster-of-Paris and burlap field jackets occupy shelves, desks, and drawers, and the colossal ones cover even the floor. These specimens suggest adventure, palaeontological expeditions to distant locales. This is reflected in Evans's enthusiasm as he explains that "there are five brand new dinosaur species in the lab right now. And we just found another one in the field last month."

Curator of the Museum's current exhibition Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants from Gondwana, Evans also oversees a very active dinosaur research program at the ROM that includes international fieldwork. In the past few years, he has travelled to Mongolia, South America, the Arctic, and Africa. "I like to work in places that have not been explored," he says. "These areas can fill in big gaps in our knowledge of past diversity."

Evans's research focuses on reconstructing patterns of evolution and on the diversity of dinosaurs during the Late Cretaceous period, the last in the great Age of Dinosaurs. It is, as he says, "an attempt to understand the evolutionary and ecological dynamics of dinosaurs as they relate to climate change leading up to the end-Cretaceous extinction event." He hopes that this will shed new light on the causes and consequences of mass extinctions in general--something pertinent to the biodiversity crisis we are facing today.

Despite the allure of exotic adventures, Evans prefers to work close to home. "Alberta, because it's so fossil-rich, is probably my favourite place to do fieldwork," he admits. He is a leader of the Southern Alberta Dinosaur Project, a ROM collaboration with Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Royal Tyrrell Museum. The project is uncovering new species of ancient animals at a surprising rate, and Evans divulges that three new species will be announced within the year.

Shortly after joining the ROM in 2007, Evans made a name for himself by discovering in the ROM's palaeontology storage an almost complete skeleton of the gigantic sauropod Barosaurus. The long-forgotten dinosaur's bones had sat in separate cabinets until, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, they were assembled by the newly minted palaeontologist and displayed as the centre-piece of the James and Louise Temerty Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs.

But he feels that his most significant achievement to date is his role in the discovery of the world's oldest dinosaur nesting site. Through a series of four excursions since 2005, he uncovered a large number of fossilized nests in South Africa, which are approximately 200 million years old. The fossilized nesting site significantly alters the general perception of dinosaurs as "monsters," offering insights into the child-rearing habits of the earliest dinosaurs.

Before we leave the lab, Evans gives a sneak preview of another soon-to-be-unveiled treasure. Only parts of it are visible, but its scaly skin is striking and rough to the touch. He reveals that it is a complete skull of Gryposaurus from Utah. "What's special about this specimen is its preserved skin. Note that the scales don't overlap. In this way it is similar to a Gila monster or a Komodo dragon. This is the most skin ever found on the face of a dinosaur."

Ever the adventurer, he is looking forward to his next expedition, when he resumes his hunt for dinosaur remains deep in the heart of the Sahara Desert.



David C. Evans


Department of Natural History

Academic Positions


Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology

Department of Natural History, ROM


Associate Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology

Department of Natural History, ROM


Assistant Professor

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto



Doctor of Philosophy, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto


Bachelor of Science, Integrated Sciences Program, University of British Columbia

Follow David Evans as he takes readers behind the scenes during the making of Ultimate Dinosaurs at Map the #ultimatedlnos adventure on twitter @ROM Palaeo.

SHEEZA SARFRAZ is a researcher/writer at the Royal Ontario Museum Press.
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Title Annotation:Our Curators
Author:Sarfraz, Sheeza
Publication:ROM Magazine
Date:Sep 22, 2012
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