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My own SVP Experience(Long)



Following Dick Pierce's great accounts of SVP (complete  or extract,
depending how lucky you are... believe me his friends ARE the lucky ones
and get the full-length one!), I have decided to post a brief, personal
account initially done for DinoPress, the excellent Dinosaur periodical
that decidedly needs all our support (you can order Dino Press at

Aurora-Oval Inc.
4-3-8  Hattyoubori  Chuou-ku
Tokyo  104-0032   JAPAN
e-mail: inoue@dinopress.com
      : m.inoue@aurora-oval.co.jp
      : sugimoto@dinopress.com).

An extract of this account together with photographs  are published in
the next issue. That together with some outstanding inedit articles by
George Olshevsky, Tracy Ford and illustrated by yours truly among others
makes the next Dino Press worth a look!


SOCIETY OF VERTEBRATE PALEONTOLOGY MEETING. MEXICO CITY 2000.
An informal chronicle of a remarkable  event.

By Luis Rey.


Mexico used to be my home town, the place I grew up and also developed
my vocation for dinosaurs years ago,  long before emigrating to Spain
and England.
I still have close ties with Mexico through not only memories but very
close friends and relatives so I still consider the country close to my
heart.

When I heard that the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology was planning to
do the annual meeting there in the year 2000 I was doubly excited. I set
to promote the event as much as possible since unfortunately many people
seemed reluctant to attend. Mexico had a ?bad? reputation and  is far
from the squeaky clean, familiar environment preferred by some
professionals.

But Mexico deserved this meeting. It has been just recently developing
collaborations and gathering resources for some of the most important
dinosaur discoveries in  recent years. Yes there are plenty of dinosaur
graveyards in the north of Mexico (States of Coahuila and Chihuahua)
something that would also result in a fruitful field trip immediately
after the meeting.

So within this framework (and also looking forward for the field trips
organized that accompanied the event),  I set myself for the adventure
of the SVP meeting in Mexico City.
 I will try to make a summary of the most important dinosaur-related
events during the conference that was set in the big (if rather
impersonal) hotel Fiesta Americana. This hotel is usually viewed as the
créme-de-la-créme for American business parties... not an extremely
exciting promise... at least for me.

First of all there was the question of setting up and getting together
with some dear friends. The  meeting of people is an unrelentless
business in all the SVP meetings... you meet them everywhere and all
times and you always have something to talk about!  Mexico was not going
to be an exception, on the contrary! Many people actually wanted to know
where they could go and what could they visit in the middle of the talks
too. So I directed them the best I could to some of my favorite places.
Mexico is so full of culture in the form of Museums, artcrafts and an
incredibly rich tradition and color that actually it was really hard
have a balance between paleontology and sightseeing!

I had planned to have a small exhibit of my work and  also had planned
to have a poster ?Claw of the Mantis: The Predatory Strike and The
Origin Of Flight?, but unfortunately my friends and colleagues Marco
Signore and Ilja Niewland couldn?t come to the meeting and the poster
had to be cancelled.
There were less exhibitors than usual. For dinosaur fans, Maximo Salas
the famous dinosculptor from Mexico had an awesome display of excellent
1:35 scale dinosaurs and mammals. I had the privilege to share the table
with him (selling prints of my artwork) and the Universidad de Hidalgo
publications. Needless to say we exchanged a few things and now I?m the
proud owner of a beautiful Seismosaurus model... hopefully the next will
be the fabulous Argentinosaurus model some of these days!
Other tables included Academic Press, Indiana University Press,
Paleobond and just a few more, including the German editorail group
Verlag DR. Friedrich Pfeil (whose excellent book on Jurassic Fauna was
relished by Dan Chure... fortunately they were the only exhbitors that
actually were selling copies of books in situ).

The first two days were low in dinosaur-related talks, so our usual
dinosaur gang started the trip at the Preparators Symposium in the Museo
de Geología at the Santa María La Ribera quarter from Mexico City. The
building is a beautiful relic from the General Porfirio Diaz dictatorial
regime (French-like architecture from the early XX Century) with many
prehistoric mammal skeletons and a full Kritosaur skeletal
reconstruction(a peculiar skeleton that actually has one pathological
hand with fused metacarpals).

The Preparators Symposia was highlighted by fine presentations of Amy
Davidson professional pristine-clear presentation of ?A Demonstration of
Preparation Tools and Techniques for Gobi Material? and  David
Lovelace?s ?A New Method for a Self-Skinning Uretahane Foam Resin?.
Later it actually gave us access to the practical use of preparation
tools in the workshops of the museum.
As we were practising using the tools on some sample fossils, the
employees of the museum and the famous Mexican Paleontologist René
Hernandez graciously showed us in detail some of the material collected
in Saltillo?s Rincón Colorado site (Coahuila) and others. We had access
to an awesome Tyrannosaur femur and very impressive unnamed dinosaur
bones including a hadrosaur femur head the size of Apatosaurus!
Hadrosaur material from the North of Mexico seems to be as big or bigger
than the Chinese Shantungosaurus. We had fun there!

So that?s for an early exciting start. That same evening we got finally
acquainted with most of the Symposium attendees in a well prepared and
generous reception at the same Museum. I was surprised by the number...
at least 500 people gathered, including Jacques Gauthier, Luis Chiappe,
Mark Norell, Ralph Chapman, Linda Deck, Sankar Chatterjee, Phil Currie,
David Norman,  Don Burge, John Hutchinson, Jim Kirkland, Dan Chure, Alan
Gishlick, David Gillette, Dong Zhiming, Chris Brochu, Scott Sampson,
René Hernandez, Ismael Ferrusquia, Ignacio Vallejo, Carlos René Delgado,
Rosario Gomez, Thom Holtz, Nick Longrich, Don Henderson,  the dinosaur
gang (Greg Paul, Mike Skrepnick, John Lanzendorf, Brian Cooley and Mary
Ann Wilson,  Peter Buccholz, Scott Hartman, Russell Hawley, Tracy Ford,
Dick Pierce,  Mary Kirkaldy, Judy Horan and many others that I have come
to constantly meet and have had in the highest esteem during all these
years). Conspicuous absences were Jack Horner, Ken Carpenter, Jim
farlow,  Robert Bakker, Kevin Padian, Paul Sereno and the Czerkases.
Also there was no attendance of the ?opposition? to the dinosaur-bird
link (John Ruben et al, Feduccia or Larry Martin).
Everybody seemed to be there to have a good time.And they were not
disappointed, Mexico resulted to be an extremely exciting place and the
atmosphere was electric!

René Hernandez surprised me with a present he owed me for a long time: a
couple of arm casts from the Kritosaur specimen from the museum: after
the party, I could be sighted for a while with a pair of enormous
prehistoric ?crutches?!
Since I couldn?t get both back to England, Dan Chure got one as a
present!

Thursday started really early: At  7:30 the Internet Dinosaur List
celebrated its annual breakfast... organized by coordinator Mary
Kirkaldy, this is always a popular event, attended by a close-knit group
of dinoexperts and dinofans (among them John Lanzendorf, Mike Skrepnick,
Scott Hartman, Peter Buccholz, Tracy Ford, Thom Holtz, Ralph Chapman and
several  others). There was a raffle and a special memento for our
saddest loss this year: the passing of Betty Cunningham, dinosaur fan
extraordinaire an one of the most famous members of the Dinosaur List..

The rest of the morning was rather quiet with just the sporadic
brilliant cladistic analyses by Thom Holtz (if you can call it
?quiet?!),  so Thursday?s ?meat and potatoes? was concentrated in the
Poster Session.

Always an awesome display, both at graphic and a theoretical level the
Posters  Session is  a popular gathering place to discuss new proposals
in situ with the researchers.
Unfortunately this year the posters space was limited and not well
organized and you could find many chaotically mixed-up with the tables
of the exhibitors.

Among the most relevant were Nick Longrich?s  ?Myrmecophagous
Maniraptora? Alvarezsaurids as Aardraptors?...a brilliant, convincing
display on the possible adaptations of Mononykus and Shuuvuia  as ant or
termite eaters based on their anatomical characteristics... those
strong,  small  but well clawed arms were made for digging termite
mounds!

Next was a beautiful anatomical display of the new Sauropod Jobaria ?A
Restoration of the Cranio-Cervical System in Jobaria?: Excellent poster.
Weishamplel?s team poster about the reivindication of Avimimus (the
Kurzanov enigmatic genera) was also interesting: Yes the animal seems to
have been real from the start, although the remains continue to be
scrappy and there are still questions to be addressed.

There were several interesting posters on Sauropod remains from South
and North America but the definitive highlight was the poster by a
Chilean research team lead by David Rubilar and Alexander Vargas  ?The
Dinosaur-Bird Transition Compared to the Development of the Chick
(Gallus gallus)? which included amazing embryonic development
photographs from the genus Gallus compared with anatomical dinosaur
details.
We could see the amazing similarity of an embryonic chicken forelimb and
leg compared directly with a Tyrannosaurus leg or an Allosaurus or
dromaeosaur hand... and the clarity of the embryo photographs was
pristine, truly outstanding and leaving very little room for doubt to my
eyes. It is not that ontogeny by force recapitulates phylogeny but here
we had a case well put that no doubt has very much FOR it.
 So impressed was I with the poster that I took Jacques Gauthier and
Alan Gishlick to meet the authors in person. What was meant as a brief
cordial encounter resulted in a remarkable amicable exchange for more
than 40 minutes in front of the poster! The Chilean team had never heard
of Gauthier?s remarkable refutation of Feduccia in his paper on Digit
Homology development... so it was a little like an encounter of a Darwin
with a Wallace... different parts of the world, but Science can reach
similar conclusions based on objectivity alone!

Even great moments in science have to be interrupted sometimes, and we
hurried up to this evening?s reception, that treated us with the some of
the finest Mexican food. I must admit that this has been the best
meeting I have attended if only for meals alone!

The real excitement was expected for Friday.
Friday was to be Dinosaur Day and we were there  talk after talk...
starting with a brilliant warm-up by Andrew Lee and his ?Collagen Fiber
Organization of Alligator Bones: A resistance to Loading Design in
Archosaurs?where he successfully compared the basic muscle structure of
a crocodile with an ornithopod dinosaur.
I can?t say I could attend many non-dinosaur talks, but the ?New
Information on the Skeleton of Nyctosaurus? was irresistible and didn?t
let down any  Pterosaur fans: That thing had a truly bizarre, incredible
long backward pointing  crest like a stick... a complete new review of
the species! Tracy Ford was specially excited by it.

Some of the dinosaur-related talks were relevant some rather irrelevant
and some rather ludicrous. Highlights were things like Don Henderson?s
?Convergent Evolution of Hindlimb locomotor mechanics in Birds and Large
Ornithopod Dinosaurs? where he showed how very long strides or athletic
running in big ornithopods and theropods was simply not possible. His
computer animated anatomy studies were brilliant. He smashed to pieces
Bob Bakker?s athletic, spectacular T.rex mount at the Denver Museum...
sorry Bob.

Chris Brochu had his corresponding,  brilliant Tyrannosaurus Sue talk,
showing excellent pictures and details of the specimen and debunking
some myths: No, we can?t know the sex of Sue for sure and no, Sue didn?t
show battle scars, just pathologies easily explainable by the age
factor... Sue was very old when death arrived.

The team of Josh Smith et al(including Peter Dodson) had a couple
presentations concerning work in Bajariya Oasis, Egypt.  They  also
showed  the only startling, genuine 1930?s photograph of the lost
Spinosaurus remains from Germany, a very rare treat. Their special news
was the discovery of a titanosaur sauropod rivalling  Argentinosaurus in
size, and comparable in anatomy and stratigraphic position.

For me the special highlight of the day were the two talks by Alan
Gishlick, the disciple of Jacques Gauthier. Both were related to
forelimb anatomy of theropods. In the first one ?An Evaluation of the
Climbing Capability of Basal Maniraptors? he tried to demonstrate that
the dromaeosaur hand and arm were not precisely adapted for climbing,
refuting Sankar Chatterjee?s argument for an arboreal  origin of flight
via dromaeosaur ancestors. His arguments were strong, but left room for
a bit of healthy doubt.
Much more impressive were his studies on the hands of theropods. In
?Re-Examination of the Manus of Compsognathus and its Relevance to the
Original Morphology of the Coelurosaur Manus?. His detailed analyses and
never before seen photographs of the bones of the hands of
Compsognathus(showing the possibility of an almost atrophied but clear
third finger) and Sinosauropteryx had no rival.
As I stated to him: he?s always giving us headaches. I encourage
everyone to go back, correct and restore theropod hands again following
his extremely accurate instructions... just as I always do and will keep
doing!

Scott Hartman followed, and we were not disappointed: ?Primary and
Caudal Feathers as Locomotory Adaptations in Maniraptoran Theropods? was
another brilliant analyses on dromaeosaur locomotion supporting  many of
Gishlick?s previous conclusions about the non-viability of the arboreal
theory.  Feathers were looked at as stabilizers for a running creature,
not really dragging devices.

In ?New records of Ceratosaurus, Torvosaurus, Coelurus and
Stokesosaurus? Dan Chure surprised with his analyses of the Jurassic
theropod community of the Morrison Formation and sneaked in an
extraordinary juvenile skull of Ceratosaurus... the upper teeth jut long
enough to cross the lower dentaries and protrude below. Definitively a
saber-tooth dinosaur.

Concerning special, novel discoveries, Rodolfo Coria from Argentina
presented a new Abelisaurid with many similar characteristics to
Carnotaurus (possibly it was a primitive  relative) but  the most
relevant talk was delivered by Scott Sampson?s ?A Theropod Dinosaur with
a Bizarre Dentition from the Latest Cretaceous of Madagascar? . It was
described as an abelisaur with procumbent teeth. His lower jaw was weird
enough to look precisely like a spinosaurid. His main question hangs in
the balance: ?Is this finally the noasaurid everybody was looking for??.

Several bird-related talks followed, including Sankar Chatterjee?s study
on bird-dinosaur development ?The Role of Heterochrony in the Evolution
of Birds?.
Among the most criticised talks were ?Were There Venomous Theropods??
(too speculative with dubious evidence) and ?Ceratopsian Crests as
Acoustic Devices? (this was generally scorned by the majority of
researchers).

After a rather intense and tiring day, Friday evening was auction
time... fun time! Ralph Chapman, Linda Deck and Jason Kenworthy were
among the fine conductors of the proceedings. Some great items were up
for biding including a remarkable skeleton cast of a mesonychid (four
legged whale ancestor) and of course... a set of prints by yours truly!
(It went off for more than $200, so I?m happy).

By Saturday, things were wearing thin on the dinosaur camp and a lot of
people were hurrying to the spectacular Mexican Artcraft Markets or the
famous Museo de Antropología. Nevertheless we were up to a remarkable
talk: ?New Embryonic and Hatchling Dinosaur Remains from the Late
Cretaceous of Mongolia? by the David Weishampel?s team.  New discoveries
in Mongolia of beautifully preserved Oviraptorid embryos (in
pink-reddish sediment that almost seemed like bringing them to life) and
a dramatic discovery  of nearly fifteen Protoceratops hatchlings that
died struggling to reach the surface after being suddenly buried by a
landslide... one of the many killer landslides that plagued the
Mongolian landscape and that have left us with so many treasures
(including Oviraptors guarding the nests and deadly fights between
Protoceratops and Velociraptor).

Ming Hu from Korea showed us some spectacular footprint sites (including
some of the most amazing pterosaur and the biggest sauropod footprints
ever found). I had the pleasure to be his acquaintance during the
following Saltillo field trip.
Unfortunately from then on, the rest of the talks were mostly about
stratigraphy and a lot of teasing about future revelations.

Mark Norell closed the day with a fine display of two new oviraptorid
specimens. Norell was my ?undercover star? during the whole meeting: He
had a  surprise under his arm that couldn?t  and still can?t be
disclosed openly (it?s about to be published).
Let?s say that after fifteen years of dreaming and speculating (and many
times having withstood abuse, disbelief and scorn), finally all my
dreams came true at the stroke of an opening drawer!

I must say though that as exciting as the personal meetings and exchange
of new information were, commentaries ?backstage? were far more exciting
than the general presentations. They were rather low key with the
exceptions I have mentioned. It seems that the big guns were not to be
fired because there was less attendance expected.  Which was a pity
since the 400 to 500 enthusiastic attendees deserved it.

For the closing proceedings, the traditional annual dinner  started with
some problems with the tables (too many people and very few tables... we
had to wait but finally everything was resolved very efficiently). The
awards were presented: John Hutchinson
received the Romer Prize and Tom Lipka, who unfortunately could not
attend,
received the Bryan Patterson Award for field studies (one of two
awards).
This year marked the inauguration of the ?John Lanzendorf Award? for
paleoartists: The three dimensional award went to one of Michael Trcic
sculptures and the two dimensional award went  went to the Tyrannosaurus
Sue painting by John Gurche displayed at the Field Museum.
Tributes were paid to (among others) the Mexican organizers of the event
and a special tribute to the life achievements of Dong Zhiming (the man
that has probably named more dinosaurs last Century) represented a
special, poignant part of the meeting.

The goodbyes are always difficult with so many friends. We stayed until
late hours sharing tables and drinks. So much for a great SVP meeting
that was feared and misunderstood by many people... for us that made
it,  it was a great success and an unforgetable experience.

But the meeting was far from over: Next day we had to continue our Field
Trip adventures to the North of Mexico with Jim Kirkland and René
Hernandez... we were going to become famous there too... but that?s
another story!

--
Luis Rey

Visit my website on http//:www.ndirect.co.uk/~luisrey