Keeping up with the Jinzhousauruses
Where do you go if you want to know everything there is to know about dinosaurs?
Well obviously you could ask any passing nine-year-old boy, but if you can't find one of those you're going to need The Complete Dinosaur, 2nd Edition. Eleven-hundred pages of rigorously researched and engagingly presented dino-facts and figures set out in 45 chapters covering everything from the earliest discoveries to the latest fossil-dating technologies and written by some of the world's leading palaeontologists.
Everything, in fact, from Aardonyx to Zephyrosaurus: the coffee table book to crush all coffee tables.
But there's a problem with The Complete Dinosaur, 2nd Edition, and the clue's in the title. Compiling such a weighty tome is a magnificent achievement, but inevitably it's taken a great deal of time and developments in the field are coming thick and fast. As the Smithsonian's At the Smithsonian's Brian Switek points out there has never been a better time to study dinosaurs.
"New species are named almost weekly, and refined techniques are telling us more about dinosaur lives than was ever possible before. The flood of information is so sweeping that it can be difficult for even specialists to keep up".
Even when the first edition was published in 1997 it was clear The Complete Dinosaur would have to be updated. The editors, including Thomas R Holtz, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the University of Maryland, have tried to keep on top of developments by updating sections, amending footnotes and adding new chapters rather than jettisoning still relevant original material. But inevitably perhaps even their best efforts were overtaken by events long before the printer's ink was dry.
A paper published in the latest edition of the Journal Science aptly illustrates the point. Using Argon-argon dating - a technique based on the decay ratio of radioactive potassium - researchers at the University of California Berkeley and the University of Glasgow have revised both the date of the dinosaur extinction 66 million years ago, and the timing of the Chicxulub asteroid impact that occurred at around the same time.
The new date for the impact (66,038,000 years ago) narrows what's been dubbed the 'three metre gap' in the geological record between the demise of the dinosaurs and the asteroid impact to just 18,000 years. "Synchronous to within a gnat's eyebrow" according to Professor Paul Renne from the Berkeley Geochronology Centre, who argues that the asteroid clearly played a major role in global extinctions. "The impact was clearly the final straw that provided the tipping point".
Obviously data from the study is not included in chapter 43 of the The Complete Dinosaur - Extinction: Past and Present Perspectives written by San Diego State University's J. David Archibald. In that sense it - like the latest Argon-argon dating paper in Science - is just a snapshot, a moment in time detailing the state of our knowledge on all things relating to dinosaurs.
But what a snapshot! And there's always The Complete Dinosaur: 3rd Edition to look forward to.