It took very little time at all, but it will probably make Ian Morrison immortal.
“I was here not knowing anything about dinosaurs,” he said. “(I) just started prepping stuff… taking rock away from bone.”
Morrison, who has a fine arts degree from the University of Guelph, said he was hired at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto in 1989 on a nine-month contract. He said his fine arts background helped him make a remarkable discovery.
David Evans, curator of dinosaurs at the ROM, and Michael Ryan, head and curator of paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, had tried for many years to make sense of a dinosaur fossil. In a last ditch effort, they handed it off to Morrison.
In about 10 minutes, the artist was able to figure out how the pieces of the fossil, part of a jaw, fit together.
“Instead of being a sculptor and sculpting the rock into the shape of a bone, you know when to stop because the bone’s there,” Morrison said. “The tools are very similar.”
Evans said the dinosaur was a small, plant eater that lived about 75 to 83 million years ago in western Canada.
“They are relatives of horned dinosaurs like the triceratops, but they branched off before the triceratops got their giant ornamented frills and horns that characterize them in our minds,” he said. “The dinosaurs are about the size of a German shepherd. Rather than horns over the eyes and nose, they just have bony ridges.”
Evans said he and Ryan spent years trying to figure the fossil out, but it was Morrison’s art expertise in puzzling those fragments back together that allowed them to identify the new species.
“If it wasn’t for Ian’s amazing ability at piecing fossils together, there wouldn’t have been enough information for us to name it,” Evans said.
For that reason Evans named the dinosaur gryphoceratops morrisoni after Morrison.
Morrison said it was a pleasant surprise to have a dinosaur named after him.
“I guess its kind of nice that David named it (the dinosaur) after me, but you just do your job here,” he said. “You don’t really think that this is going to happen, that people are going to say, “Good job and more than that, we’re going to name a dinosaur after you.’”