Walking on Eggs: The Astonishing Discovery of Thousands of Dinosaur Eggs in the Badlands of Patagonia

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9780743212113: Walking on Eggs: The Astonishing Discovery of Thousands of Dinosaur Eggs in the Badlands of Patagonia

"Walking on Eggs" is the riveting inside story behind one of the most significant paleontological discoveries in history. In November 1997, Luis M. Chiappe and Lowell Dingus led an elite team of paleontologists and geologists into the rugged and desolate badlands of Argentina. Unsure of what they would find, Chiappe and Dingus knew that this region had produced many spectacular specimens of dinosaurs and fossil birds over the last century. Nothing could have prepared them, however, for the headline-grabbing discovery they were about to make: a massive dinosaur nesting ground covering more than a square mile and littered with tens of thousands of large, unhatched dinosaur eggs. Containing the first fossils of embryonic dinosaur skin ever found, the eggs gave rise to a host of mysteries. What species laid the eggs, and when? How were they preserved? And most intriguingly, what ancient catastrophe -- deeply rooted more than 70 million years in the past -- prevented them from hatching? In clear, comprehensible language, Chiappe and Dingus frame their scientific investigations within the context of a gripping detective story, illustrating how they used paleontological and geological evidence to establish the identity and age of the eggs, as well as how they established the cause of death. Chiappe and Dingus also recount a return trip to the badlands in 1999 in which they set out to learn more about dinosaur social and reproductive behavior. Their investigations once again unearthed a key piece of the historic puzzle: the bones of a twenty-foot predatory, carnivorous dinosaur. As they decipher the evidence -- divining origins, discovering identities, and pinpointing possiblecauses of extinction -- Chiappe and Dingus interweave their field adventures with chapters illuminating the crucial precedents behind their groundbreaking work. Complementing the text are beautiful hand-drawn reproductions of what the dinosaurs and their landscape might have looked like, created by an artist who joined the expedition team in Patagonia. Infused with passion and an infectious sense of awe, "Walking on Eggs" illustrates the ups and downs of the scientific process and invites dinosaur lovers of all ages to experience the exhilarating sense of discovery.

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Review:

In November 1997, paleontologists Luis Chiappe and Lowell Dingus came across a remarkable find on the cold plains of southern Argentina: a dinosaur nesting ground, where some ancient but unknown species deposited tens of thousands of eggs that never hatched. Their work, as they recount in this memoir of discovery, thus had many components: among other matters, Chiappe and Dingus needed to determine the creatures that had left their offspring in the Patagonian sandstone, how many millions of years ago they had done so, and what had happened to prevent the eggs from hatching in the first place.

Finding the answer to the first occupies much of Chiappe and Dingus's account, as they compare their evidence against similar finds in Spain and the Gobi. Determining the second affords the authors a chance to discuss newly developed dating techniques, including DNA analysis--which caused overly enthusiastic reporters to announce that the authors were on the brink of cloning sauropods from long-dead embryos. ("We do not know nearly enough about how DNA works," the authors write, to pull off such a feat.) Finally, their reconstruction of the ancient environment of Patagonia offers clues for how the unlucky eggs had come to be buried in prehistoric mud.

A spirited book about how paleontologists make and test hypotheses and go about their fieldwork, this makes a fine addition to any dinosaur buff's collection. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Luis M. Chiappe, a 1996 Guggenheim Fellow, is associate curator and chairman of the department of vertebrate paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Dr. Chiappe has conducted extensive field work in the Americas as well as in Asia. His many articles have appeared in Nature, Science, National Geographic, Scientific American, and Natural History. He lives in Santa Monica, California.

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Chiappe, Luis; Dingus, Lowell
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