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Robert T. Bakker  

Paleontologist Who Helped Reshape Modern Theories About Dinosaurs

Robert Bakker is an unusual academic and scholar, and as a result does not fit well into the mold of the other academics and scholars listed among the prominent Dutch Americans. However, his ground breaking work in the field of dinosaur paleontology and his efforts at publicizing his theories clearly earn him a spot among the other prominent academics and scholars listed.

In 1986, Bakker published his ground breaking work entitled, “Dinosaur Heresies: New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of the Dinosaurs and their Extinction”. In this book he argues that dinosaurs were not slow-moving, slow-witted, cold-blooded creatures as represented by the then accepted paleontologic and scientific community. Instead he argued that they were, at least in some cases, warm-blooded giants that were well equipped to roam and dominate our planet for 200 million years. He also argued in the book that dinosaurs are the ancestors of birds, a theory that is now apparently not as hotly questioned as it was when the book first came out.

Bakker was born in Bergen, New Jersey, on March 24, 1945. When he was a young boy his parents took him to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and Bakker saw his first exhibit of dinosaurs. He was fascinated by them and even then vowed that he wanted to become a paleontologist. When he was eight years old, in 1953, he saw a copy of a Life Magazine in his grandfather’s house. The magazine cover displayed part of Rudolph Zallinger’s famous 1947 mural, “The Age of Reptiles”, at Yale University’s Peabody Museum. The article inside the magazine hooked Bakker for life. Interestingly, 15 years later, in 1968, he graduated from the University, Yale, where the mural was displayed in the Peabody museum. At Yale, Bakker studied under John Ostrom, an early proponent of the new theory about dinosaurs. And that exposure only fuelled Bakker’s interest in dinosaurs still further. It was at Yale that Ostrom and Bakker first raised the theory that dinosaurs were not cold-blooded brutes, but at least some were warm-blooded, highly adaptable, highly intelligent, and highly social creatures.

Following his undergraduate studies at Yale, Bakker went on to Harvard for graduate work, where he studied Anatomy and Zoology. He received his Ph.D. Degree in 1971, and following his graduation accepted an appointment at Johns Hopkins University as a Lecturer of Anatomy. He continued his research in dinosaurs while at Johns Hopkins, and also continued working with John Ostrom. The two researchers are credited with initiating the ongoing dinosaur renaissance in paleontological studies. Bakker published an article in Scientific American, in April 1975, entitled, “Dinosaur Renaissance”. At that time his special field was the ecological context and behavior of dinosaurs.

Bakker published his first paper on dinosaur endothermy, about warm-bloodedness of dinosaurs, in 1968. He also was able to determine parental care at nesting sites for Allosaurus, a type of dinosaur. His on-site research has been done in Wyoming, especially at Como Bluff, Wyoming, where he has done field work every summer since 1974. However, he has traveled as far as South Africa and Mongolia in pursuit of dinosaur habitats.

In his efforts to publicize his work to the general public and to raise public interest in dinosaurs he has been involved in non-scientific areas and publications. He wrote and had a novel published entitled, “Raptor Red”. The novel tells of a year in the life of a female Utahraptor, a member of the lower Cretaceous. The book elaborates on Bakker’s theories of the behavior and life of dromaeosaurids which are raptor dinosaurs. Also the bearded paleontologist, Dr. Robert Burke, in Steven Spielberg’s film, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”, is an affectionate caricature of Bakker. The character is eventually eaten by a Tyrannosaurus.

Bakker currently is involved in a number of paleontology-related activities. He is an Adjunct Curator at the Tate Museum at Casper College in Casper, Wyoming. He is also the Director of the Morrison Natural Museum in Morrison, Colorado. Furthermore, he recently was appointed a Visiting Curator of Paleontology at the Houston, Texas Museum of Natural Science. In addition he frequently consults on paleontology-related issues for museums and other organizations,

Not much is known about Bakker’s family or private life. Apparently he has been married four times. He also is a Pentecostal preacher and believes that one should be open-minded on the issues of evolution and creationism. He lives in Wyoming and Colorado, and is active in leading fossil digs, focusing of course, on dinosaur bones in the State of Wyoming.

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