Edwin H. and Margaret M. Colbert

Theropod trackway, Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite, Wyoming, photo credit: Thomas Holtz

Edwin H. and Margaret M. Colbert

Margaret M. (Matthew) Colbert

Margaret was around fossils from an early age, accompanying her father, William D. Matthew, on Saturday trips into the American Museum of Natural History, where he was the curator of vertebrate paleontology there at the time. She would roam the dinosaur exhibits or view the wonderful dioramas completed or in creation until her hearts content.

After graduating art school in Berkeley (1931), Margaret Matthew soon got a job as an illustrator back at the American Museum, where she truly learned the art and science of illustration. This is where Margaret and Ned met, and they married later in 1933. In addition to many illustrations of skulls, bones and teeth, Margaret did restorations of extinct mammals as if they were still alive. Her restorations can be seen in Ned Colbert’s dissertation, numerous AMNH publications, books and magazines.

Her artistic skills produced a scale replica model of Lystrosaurus after Ned had found fossils of the therapsid in Antarctica. She travelled with Ned around the world, exploring the Triassic of Brazil, South Africa, India and Australia. Maybe her best-known works (or certainly most viewed) are her murals (dioramas), such as the 9 x 6 foot Eocene scene at Big Bend National Park, the oil mural of Protosuchus at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, or her most famous work, a 16 x 4 foot, oil mural depicting the flora and fauna of the Upper Triassic Chinle Formation featuring Coelophysis at the Rainbow Forest Museum at the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, produced in 1978.

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology logo was designed by Margaret Colbert in 1943.

Margaret Matthew Colbert passed away on February 24, 2007. She was one of the great pioneers of paleoart.

Edwin Harris Colbert

Dr. Edwin H. (Ned) Colbert was an authority on paleontology and helped popularize the study of dinosaurs through his work as a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and as a prolific writer of dinosaur books for a lay audience.

In his 40-year career at the American Museum as curator of reptile fossils, Colbert spent much of his time doing scientific research, preparing fossil specimens for the public and organizing its dinosaur exhibitions.

He also found time to write extensively, publishing several heavily-illustrated dinosaur books that won him acclaim from both the public and scientists. His first book, “The Dinosaur Book: The Ruling Reptiles and Their Relatives” (1945), helped to feed a growing public interest in dinosaurs in the mid-40’s and was so popular that it remained in print for two decades. Colbert wrote more than 400 scientific articles and more than 20 books. In addition to his long-selling “Dinosaur Book,” he wrote “Colbert’s Evolution of the Vertebrates: A History of the Backboned Animals Through Time” (Wiley-Liss, 2001), which is considered a classic textbook on evolutionary biology and paleontology and is now in its fifth edition.

“Through his writings, he aroused public interest in dinosaurs because he was able to write in an entertaining manner and still make it scientifically accurate,” said Dr. Gene Gaffney, who succeeded Colbert as curator of fossil reptiles at the museum. “He was known for writing the first popular books on dinosaurs, and really gave a human side to paleontology, and made the science more approachable.”

In 1969, just before retiring from the museum, Colbert traveled to Antarctica as part of a field expedition sponsored by the National Science Foundation. While there, he was part of a team that discovered and identified a 220-million-year-old fossil of a Lystrosaurus, Cynognathus and Thrinaxodon – all early relatives of mammals. Similar fossils had previously been found in South Africa, India or South America. Since Lystrosaurus was not a swimmer, the discovery lent evidence to the theory that the present-day continents must have once been part of a large land masses or supercontinents, such as Gondwana and Pangea, that slowly separated over millions of years.

These vertebrate fossils provided evidence for the theory of plate tectonics and that the southern continents were together so that they would share a common terrestrial fauna. Dr. Laurence M. Gould, the scientific leader of Adm. Richard E. Byrd’s first expedition to Antarctica, in 1928, described the discovery in an article in The New York Times as “one of the truly great fossil finds of all time.”

Colbert’s field studies in paleontology took him to all seven continents, but he preferred excavations in the southwestern United States. In 1947, while at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, he unearthed more than a dozen complete skeletons of a primitive dinosaur, Coelophysis and published a description of this small Triassic dinosaur. The Ghost Ranch quarry was one of the largest concentrations of dinosaur deposits ever recorded.

He received his AB from the University of Nebraska and his Masters and PhD from Columbia University. Among the positions he held was Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History and Professor Emeritus of Vertebrate Paleontology at Columbia University.

After retiring from the museum in 1970, Colbert became the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Museum of Northern Arizona.

Ned Colbert passed away on November 16, 2001 at the age of 96.