Walking on Eggs - Literally!

Dinosaur eggs, thousands of them, are the topic of Walking on Eggs, The Astonishing Discovery of Thousands of Dinosaur Eggs in the Badlands of Patagonia by Luis Chiappe and Lowell Dingus. Scribner published the 219 page Walking on Eggs in 2001. The retail price of this book is $25.00.

From the dust jacket, Luis Chiappe is Associate Curator and Chairman of the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Lowell Dingus is a Research Associate in the Department of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Walking on Eggs is a book-length version of an article published in National Geographic Magazine in December of 1998. The 'Geographic article was an extremely brief report on research work-in-progress. Even if you read Walking on Eggs you will probably want to see this article if for nothing more than the pictures and artist's renderings. The book includes the results of field work up through the year 2000.

Chiappe and Dingus tell the story of the workings of paleontological research and field work from their 1997 through 2000 field seasons in Patagonia. The reader not only learns about the specific finds but also about how such expeditions are run. The author's certainly give credit where credit is due throughout Walking on Eggs, sometimes to the point of tedium. At times it appears that the name of every person they may have casually bumped into had their fifteen minutes of fame within these pages. I suppose, in reality, this just proves how many people are necessary to pull off a major expedition.

If you are still with me you probably want to know why you should read another book about dinosaur eggs. You may already have read Dinosaur Eggs and Babies by Carpenter, Hirsch, and Horner and Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs by Novacek, both of which discuss some amazing discoveries. Walking on Eggs presents even more spectacular finds.

Not only did Chiappe and Dingus discover thousands of dinosaur eggs, they found the first confirmed nesting grounds for sauropod dinosaurs. Previous speculation about spherical dinosaur eggs indicated that such eggs may have been from sauropods. This new research confirms this view with the discovery of well preserved embryos within a number of the Patagonian eggs. That in itself was big news but it wasn't the only news. Not only did some of the Patagonian eggs contain sauropod embryos but they also had numerous examples of preserved skin! Walking on Eggs has some nice black and white photographs including one of the preserved skin but the previously mentioned National Geographic article has a beautiful color photo of the skin that you will want to see.

The Patagonian expeditions also had more amazing finds. They discovered two new theropod dinosaurs. One of these was mostly complete. The nesting grounds themselves were found in four different strata showing a repetitious use by the sauropods. The research team discovered the remains of adult Titanosaurs amongst the nesting grounds allowing speculation that the eggs had been laid by that type of sauropod. In addition, as if that weren't enough, a large area of sauropod trackways was discovered. The trackways were found to be within the same strata as one of the nesting grounds.

Walking on Eggs fleshes out the story of these amazing finds. Chiappe and Dingus intrigue the reader with stories of the difficulties of paleontological field work-they will dispel any thoughts you might have of a glamorous life of working in the field. If you've read other books that present field research you may expect to hear of exotic foods and strange customs in far away lands. The authors' don't disappoint here. The celebratory feasts with the native peoples are interesting-especially the one when they barbequed a horse.

Chiappe and Dingus end with a chapter lamenting the partial destruction of their research area by commercial collectors. With a lucrative world market for fossils, they had been concerned that publishing their discoveries would lead to vandalism at their sites. This is indeed what has happened. The Argentine government has now declared the area a protected site for research to help prevent further "poaching." I must say here that I disagree with the authors' lecture about the evils of commercial and amateur collectors and their destruction of such valuable sites. I specifically object to lumping "amateurs" in with commercial collectors in this context. While there may be "bad eggs" in any group, I don't believe that any amateur would knowingly disturb a site being studied by professionals. Vertebrate paleontologists (and here I will do the lumping) need to recognize that dedicated amateur collectors are valuable allies that regularly contribute to the work of professional paleontologists.

I breezed through Walking on Eggs in a mere two days, partly because of a bout with insomnia and partly because it was an extremely easy read. I found myself skimming sections and totally skipping others as I worked through the book. These sections covered topics that I was already familiar with such as, geologic time, radiometric dating, and cladistics. Chiappe and Dingus explained these topics on a very elementary level thereby making Walking on Eggs accessible to both younger and less familiar readers.

Although Walking on Eggs is entirely written on a level suitable for younger readers, don't think that this is a children's or youth book. The book has been written in such a way as to make this one portion of science easily understandable for the masses. It is to the authors' credit to have accomplished this-books written at higher levels don't go nearly as far towards making science understandable and less intimidating for the scientifically undereducated population.

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