Erickson is only one of around three-hundred and fifty professional dinosaur paleontologists working in the world, so there is plenty of work still to be done. “You are most likely to make it into Major League Baseball than do what I do,” Erickson said.
Because of this, most dinosaur remains are found by the public, or by paleontology societies such as the Birmingham chapter that found the duck-billed dinosaur. There are plenty of stories that tell us about kids playing in the woods or near a lake and discovering a set of fossilized bones (much to their utter delight).
The late Cretaceous Period, roughly 85 million years ago, had incredible differences as far as our landmasses were concerned. North America had a huge, one thousand mile sea dividing it into two halves, connecting the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, stretching from Georgia and Alabama all the way north into Canada.
This created two landmasses, known as Laramidia to the west and Appalachia to the east. This skeleton suggests that dinosaurs of this species originated in Appalachia and then went on to disperse via land-bridges into other areas of the Americas.
This discovery also sheds light on the history of dinosaurs and where their remains are more likely to be found. There are areas in Wyoming, Montana, Alberta (in Canada), China, and Africa.
Erickson said with a laugh: “People don't realize there were southern dinosaurs.” There are about a thousand species of dinosaurs, and about forty are identified as “duck-billed.”
This is why, as Erickson says, it's so critical for experts to be notified. Plenty of these fossils are already damaged by time, the weight of the world, and movements in landmasses. If amateurs try to transport or study them, more damage could be one slip away.
“It's a very delicate task to get a dinosaur out [of the ground] and get it properly prepared.” More damage means it's more trouble studying the bones and fossils. The easiest remains to study are fully-formed skeletons, but as we've seen, even the smallest dino eggs can yield information.
Dinosaur study is a slow science. Just like the movement of landmasses or the immense movements of huge creatures, there is advancement, but it can sometimes be hard to see.
Many years can be spent aligning a few bones, but every once in a while there are big leaps forward – as far as paleontology works, at least. Erickson and his fellow researchers are always working to discover the next big thing.