Paleontologist Philip Currie knows that the smallest things can spark the largest imaginations. For him, all it took was “one book, All About Dinosaurs by Roy Chapman Andrews, to set him on the course for the rest of his life.
“I get people from all sorts of science backgrounds coming up to me and saying: ‘You know, I never got into dinosaurs, but I did have this book when I was a kid,’” he says. “And it was always the Chapman Andrews book.”
Other smalls discoveries — nuggets of chalk-like fossils left behind by the history’s giants — continued to drive his enormous passion, from McGill University, where he completed his PhD, to the University of Alberta, where he is a paleobiology professor. His enthusiasm for prehistoric discoveries in our province is evident in his involvement with the Royal Tyrell Museum near Drumheller, which opened in 1985. He formed a proposal for the museum and served as curator for 20 years before coming to Edmonton to teach.
In that time he’s unearthed treasures in the Antarctic, Mongolia and even in Edmonton’s river valley. More recently, he’s shifted his attention to the Pipestone Creek region outside of Grande Prairie, where there are so many fossils that next year the Alberta city is opening the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum.
“My initial thought was, ‘What? I’m not dead yet!’” jokes the 63-year-old. “‘I don’t want a museum named after me.’”
Slated to open in July 2013, it will feature three levels of exhibitions, two classrooms, a small theatre, and research and collection areas on 10 acres of land.
But, U of A researchers were dismayed after vandals smashed fossil remains of a duck-billed dinosaur in July on the Pipestone site.
Currie is planning on occasionally speaking at the new facility, since he enjoys teaching paleontology as much as he enjoys pursuing it. He’s amazed at the amount of fossils still found in the Edmonton area, where excavations with students at the U of A farms have uncovered many remains of Edmontosaurus, a duck-billed herbivore.
“The City of Edmonton has been drilling new sewer lines and they’ve been finding fossils. We [paleontologists] normally only dig about three metres into the ground, and they’ve been drilling a hundred feet down to stuff we could never get our hands on,” he says. “Just shows how much there’s still to discover here.”