In Dinosaurs Without Bones: Dinosaur Lives Revealed by Their Trace Fossils, paleontologist Martin explores dinosaur life through ichnology—the study of tracks, nests, droppings, and other non-bone relics of ancient life.
You research and teach ichnology at the university level, but what motivated you to write a popular, general audience book about it?
I think almost everybody is interested in dinosaurs, so to teach ichnology using dinosaurs was just too good an opportunity. I wanted to connect with people who may be casually interested in science, or who want to learn more about science from a completely different angle, a way that draws them in and gets them involved with how scientists think and how science is conducted.
Do you think new technology is helping us discover more about ancient history, or is new learning still mostly coming from digging in the dirt and hoping we uncover some things?
We still have to get out in the field, there’s no substitute for that. But technology is definitely helping with furthering paleontology and ichnology. We are doing much better 3-D visualizations of dinosaur tracks and dinosaur nests, and mapping those using computers. We can treat a track almost like it is a miniature landscape. So we can make better judgments of how to interpret these. But all these technological tools are not a substitute for good old fashioned observation skills that sometimes just require our brains, our senses, a piece of paper and a pencil. That’s ground zero for doing good science.
What’s the next thing you personally believe about Mesozoic creatures for which you hope we find some evidence soon?
I would love to see traces of dinosaur sex! These dinosaurs that sometimes weighed 20–40 tons, how did they manage to reproduce without hurting one another, or other animals, in the process? Two-legged modern dinosaurs like ostriches weigh less than 200 lbs. each. Even elephants at the most are eight tons. So quadruple those weights, and we can’t really imagine what sort of traces those would leave.
What new information that we’ve discovered since the original Jurassic Park in 1993 would you especially like to see incorporated in this summer’s remake?
All my paleontological colleagues and I want to see the velociraptors with feathers. Those types of dinosaurs not only had feathers, but they shared a common ancestor with modern birds. I hope that the movie incorporates more birdlike behavior, such as nurturing, or certain feeding habits.
How important do you think it is that fiction be based in good science?
I don’t think fiction necessarily has to adhere to good science, although good science can inspire really wonderful, creative fiction. You’ll be surprised at what bizarre, incredible, awe-inspiring things might be out there in the natural world that you never thought about before, that could propel your fiction forward.