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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Birds from the age of dinosaurs and a Transylvanian Baron

Dr Gareth Dyke, who recently arrived at the National Oceanography Centre from University College, Dublin, has brought a new, palaeontology research strand to the University of Southampton's Ocean and Earth Science and has recently published two papers on birds from the Cretaceous. Birds from the age of dinosaurs are one of Gareth’s central interests.

Biology Letters, one of the Royal Society's biological research journals carries a paper, written by Gareth and four co-authors, on the spectacular discovery of evidence for a gigantic bird from the Cretaceous. The find was made in Kazakhstan, where Gareth has been working for many years, and analysis of a fossil of the creature’s jawbone suggests that large body size evolved at least once before the radiation of modern birds.

Another research project, being presented by Dyke and colleagues at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology in November describes evidence, uncovered in the Sebes area of Transylvania, Romania, for colonies of prehistoric birds that nested in large, waterside colonies – much like today’s ducks or flamingos.

Gareth also has a keen interest in a flamboyant founding father of modern day palaeontology and has written a fictionalised account of the life of Baron Franz Nopsca. As well as being one of the foremost fossil hunters of his day, Nopsca, who died in 1933, led a colourful life, to say the least. Born in Transylvania, he was a spy in the First World War, made a bid to become King of Albania and ended his life in a murder-suicide when he shot his gay lover before turning the gun on himself. His research legacy lives on, however, and he developed techniques for fossil analysis and theories of dinosaur evolution and dispersal that still have relevance today.

Gareth is now seeking a publisher for his book about the Dinosaur Baron.

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