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NY Times Obit. for Ned Colbert
Here is the article about Ned Colbert that appeared in yesterday's New York
November 25, 2001
E. H. Colbert, 96, Dies; Wrote Dinosaur Books
By ANAHAD O'CONNOR
Dr. Edwin H. Colbert, an authority on paleontology who helped popularize the
study of dinosaurs through his work as a curator at the American Museum of
Natural History in New York and as a prolific writer of dinosaur books for a
lay audience, died on Nov. 15 at his home in Flagstaff, Ariz. He was 96.
In his 40-year career at the museum, Dr. Colbert organized its dinosaur
displays. As curator of reptile fossils, he spent much of his time doing
scientific research, preparing fossil specimens for the public and
But he also found time to write extensively, publishing several heavily
illustrated dinosaur books that won him acclaim from both the public and
scientists. His first book, "The Dinosaur Book: The Ruling Reptiles and
Their Relatives" (1945), helped to feed a growing public interest in
dinosaurs in the mid- 40's and was so popular that it remained in print for
"Through his writings, he aroused public interest in dinosaurs because he
was able to write in an entertaining manner and still make it scientifically
accurate," said Dr. Gene Gaffney, who succeeded Dr. Colbert as curator of
fossil reptiles at the museum. "He was known for writing the first popular
books on dinosaurs, and really gave a human side to paleontology, and made
the science more approachable."
In 1969, just before retiring from the museum, Dr. Colbert traveled to
Antarctica as part of a field expedition sponsored by the National Science
While there, he was part of a team that discovered and identified a 220-
million-year-old fossil of a Lystrosaurus, an early relative of mammals.
Similar fossils had previously been found in South Africa. Since
Lystrosaurus was not a swimmer, the discovery lent evidence to the theory
that the present-day continents must have once been part of a large land
mass or supercontinent that slowly separated over millions of years.
The continental drift theory, originally proposed in 1912 by Alfred Wegener,
a German meteorologist, had long been debated by scientists, but the
discovery was a crucial piece of evidence. Dr. Laurence M. Gould, the
scientific leader of Adm. Richard E. Byrd's first expedition to Antarctica,
in 1928, described the discovery in an article in The New York Times as "one
of the truly great fossil finds of all time."
Dr. Colbert's field studies in paleontology took him to all seven
continents, but he preferred excavations in the southwestern United States.
In 1947, while at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, he unearthed more than a dozen
complete skeletons of a primitive dinosaur, coelophysis. It was one of the
largest concentrations of dinosaur deposits ever recorded.
After retiring from the museum in 1970, Dr. Colbert became the curator of
vertebrate paleontology at the Museum of Northern Arizona.
Born Sept. 28, 1905, in Clarinda, Iowa, Edwin Harris Colbert later moved to
Maryville, Mo., with his family. He earned his bachelor's degree at the
University of Nebraska, and received his Ph.D. in 1935 from Columbia.
Dr. Colbert wrote more than 400 scientific articles and more than 20 books.
In addition to his long-selling "Dinosaur Book," he wrote "Colbert's
Evolution of the Vertebrates: A History of the Backboned Animals Through
Time" (Wiley-Liss, 2001), which is considered a classic textbook on
evolutionary biology and paleontology and is now in its fifth edition.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret Colbert of Flagstaff; five sons:
George, of New York City; David and Philip, of Seattle; Daniel, of
Riverside, Conn., and Charles, of Portland, Ore.; five grandchildren, and