Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh





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By R. J. Gangewere


Dec. 7, 2002 to Jan. 26, 2003                                     


SuperCroc not only lived with the dinosaurs, it ate them.


Forty feet long, with a weight of 10 tons, and massive 6-foot jaws, this was undoubtedly one of the largest crocodilians ever to swim or walk upon the earth.   It lived 110 million years ago in Africa, when rivers coursed over what today are the blowing sands of sub-Saharan Africa.


Stealthy, smart, energy-efficient, and powerful, this water's edge predator lived in rivers, swamps, lakes, and even coastal regions.  Its ancestry, like that of other crocodilians, goes back to the Triassic period some 230 million years ago.  Crocodilians predated the dinosaurs and have had a remarkable adaptability to survive mass extinctions.


Scienticially identified as Sarcosuchus imperator (flesh crocodile emperor) by paleontologists in the 1960s, the species of the monster called "SuperCroc" was discovered by fossil hunter Paul Sereno and his team in 2000 in the sands of a fossil graveyard in Niger, Africa.  The nearly complete 6-foot jaws and 6-foot skull were found with scores of other Sarcosuchus remains, such as vertebrae, limb bones, and armor plates.  Its full length had to be estimated from its head and jaws.  SuperCroc had short, powerful teeth, and probably lay in wait, largely submerged, with only its eyes and nose hole showing, for prey on land to come to the water's edge.  But it could also eat turtles, fish, and other water animals.


Scientists speculate that this species lived only a few million years, and perhaps was a relatively rare animal.  Its size put it at the top of the food chain, where it was subject to change in the environment and the food supply.   By comparison, today's alligators, crocodiles, caimans, and gavials--all crocodilians--can be relatively tiny creatures, although the largest crocodiles still reach 20 feet in length. 


The research and exhibit were funded in part by the National Geographic Society, which has an active website.  Find out more at:



Mary Dawson Honored with Highest Award from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology 



Dr. Mary Dawson of Carnegie Museum of Natural History has been named the 2002 recipient of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s (SVP) highest award, the A.S. Romer – G. G. Simpson Medal.  Dawson is only the second woman, and first American woman, to receive this award in its 25-year history.           


The A.S. Romer – G. G. Simpson Medal is presented annually to a person who has “sustained an outstanding scholarly excellence and service to the discipline of vertebrate paleontology.”  The medal will be presented at the SVP Annual Meeting on October 12 in Oklahoma City, OK.


Dawson is curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History and is celebrating her 40th year at the museum and 30th as a curator.  As head curator, she is responsible for the fourth largest collection in North America.  This collection includes more than 103,000 specimens from the Silurian to the Pleistocene eras, with a worldwide geographical distribution.  The collection is still growing at a healthy pace and is considered the finest Jurassic dinosaur collection in the world.  


Ironically, even though Dawson is responsible for the care and preservation of fossils of some of the largest creatures ever to live, her own research focus is on fossil mammals such as rodents and rabbits, with a concentration on early Tertiary faunas and the evolution of species.


The A.S. Romer – G. G. Simpson Medal is Dr. Dawson’s second award from SVP.  In 1999 she was named an Honorary Member of SVP for her numerous contributions to the research field.


Her awards and honors include the 1981 prestigious Arnold Guyot Prize, awarded by the National Geographic Society in recognition of her research in the Arctic, which produced fossil evidence that North America and Europe were linked and shared the same animal types 45 – 50 million years ago.    In 1987, she was named a “Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania” by then Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey.  And in 1999, she received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Chatham College in Pittsburgh.


A native of Michigan, Dawson received her BS from Michigan State University and her Ph.D. from the University of Kansas.  She came to Carnegie Museum of Natural History as a research associate in the section of Vertebrate Paleontology in 1962 and was appointed curator in 1972.  She has also served as acting director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History and is an adjunct professor, Department of Geology and Planetary Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh.



The Spectacular Gem & Mineral Show

November 22-23


The fifth Carnegie Gem & Mineral show will feature emeralds, in keeping with section head Marc Wilson's plan to showcase each year a different example of the world's most popular minerals.  Last year the featured mineral was gold and next year the emphasis will be on diamonds.


Known nationally for its high quality and creativity, the annual Gem & Mineral Show has educational activities for children as well as adults.  Some 26 vendors will offer specimens, jewelry, and artistic items for sale, and nearly 40 exhibitors will display highlights of their collections.  The Houston Museum of Natural Science will show its emerald crystals, and vendors from rich emerald mining locales in Columbia and North Carolina will display their wares.




Did you know…


The American Anthropology Association began in Pittsburgh 100 years ago


The prestigious American Anthropology Association was founded in Pittsburgh in 1902 through the efforts of Dr. William J. Holland, the newly appointed Director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History.  One of Holland's first initiatives

was to host the important 51st Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which was attended by such famous Pittsburgh scientists such as inventor George Westinghouse and astronomer John Brashear, as well as important scientists from across the United States.


After the opening General Session of the AAAS in Carnegie Music Hall, the anthropologists held their own special meeting to form their new American Anthropology Association (AAA).  Perhaps because Holland was also a minister, the founding meeting of AAA was convened in a nearby church.


One result of the anthropology meetings was new support for Pittsburgh's Egypt Exploration Fund, which led to the collections that the museum now has on display. 




 Tyrannosarus  rex: a New Presence at Pittsburgh International Airport


Travelers at the Airside Terminal of Pittsbugh International Airport are now greeted by the imposing T. rex that was once displayed in the entrance corridor of the museum in Oakland.   In the week of September 16, the museum's replica T. rex,  mounted in the scientifically correct position--aggressively horizontal--was unveiled as a Pittsburgh icon at the airport.  Travelers will be reminded that Pittsburgh is the "Home of the Dinosaurs," and that Carnegie Museum of Natural History is one of the best places in the world to see the real fossil specimens.



Botanist Cynthia Morton Joins the Staff                                    


A highly respected botanist and educator, Dr. Cynthia Morton, has been appointed associate curator in the Section of Botany.  Prior to coming to the museum, she was director of the Freeman Herbarium at Auburn Museum, where she was  actively involved in the Alabama State Land division's project to database the collection.  Her own research specialty is in the botanical family Rutaceae, a large tropical and economically important group including many citrus fruits such as lemons, grapefruits, and oranges.


She looks forward at the museum "to educating the region about the museum's herbarium, why it is such a valuable community resource, and eventually creating a virtual herbarium on the web."   The museum's herbarium is among the top 25 in North America, with large holdings from the Upper Ohio Valley region, and more than 500,000 specimens from around the globe.


Dr. Morton received her Doctorate from CUNY/ New York Botanical Garden, completed a NATO postdoctoral fellowship at Kew Gardens, and a National Environmental Research Council Fellowship in Reading University, UK, in association with the British Museum of Natural History.


Museum director Bill DeWalt is pleased to add a new "outstanding researcher to our scientific staff," and looks forward to her initiating collaborative efforts with the local botany community, and to her databasing of the collection so that it can become more available to researchers from around the world. 





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