Dinosaur discoveries man gets prestigious award at Museum

12 November 2010

A fossil expert who has discovered more than 50 new species from the time of the dinosaurs received a national award at the Natural History Museum this week.

Dr Steve Sweetman receives the Marsh Palaeontology Award from Brian Marsh, OBE, Chairman of the Mars

Dr Steve Sweetman receives the Marsh Palaeontology Award from Brian Marsh, OBE, Chairman of the Marsh Christian Trust

The Marsh Palaeontology Award was given to Dr Steve Sweetman, a palaeontologist at the University of Portsmouth, for his significant contribution to the field.

Dr Sweetman has uncovered at least 8 dinosaurs and other animals including 6 tiny mammals from a site in the Isle of Wight. The finds, dated to about 130 million years ago, have shed light on the poorly understood world of the dinosaurs.

Virtually nothing was known about the smaller vertebrates such as little dinosaurs, fish, frogs, salamanders, lizards, birds and mammals until Steve began his fieldwork,’ says Dr Martin Munt from the Natural History Museum who is Chair of the Marsh Award Committee.

‘We now have a much better understanding of the environmental conditions and diversity of vertebrates during the Early Cretaceous period on the Isle of Wight.

Dr Sweetman says of receiving the award, ‘I feel very honoured to receive this award especially as I am following in the footsteps of two remarkable previous winners.

‘It took me 4 years of hard graft to make my discoveries and it is fantastic to have my research recognised by such a prestigious award.

Difficult to find

Uncovering the fossils wasn’t easy. ‘Locating the fossils that Steve studies is very challenging and work on this type of material is time consuming and tedious,’ adds Dr Munt.

‘Steve has persevered to build up a large and significant collection of specimens and his patience and tenacity have resulted in a tremendous gain to the scientific community.’

Thorough searching

Dr Sweetman’s approach to finding fossils was more thorough than usual. He carried more than 3.5 tonnes of mud along beaches and up cliffs in buckets and backpacks before driving samples back to his farm on the island where he has set up his own laboratory.

He dried and sieved the mud until it became sand and then examined every single grain under a microscope.

Museum Palaeontology Department open day

Dr Sweetman was presented with the award on Thursday at a Natural History Museum Palaeontology Department event The Future of the Past.

There were a range of talks by Museum scientists from the Out of Africa theory with Prof Chris Stringer, dinosaurs and plant co-evolution with Paul Barrett, and evolution and extinction in the ice age with Prof Adrian Lister, to 25 million years of change in coral reefs in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia with Ken Johnson. And Prof Iain Stewart of the University of Plymouth spoke on the subject of How the Earth made us.

Marsh Palaeontology Award

The Marsh Palaeontology Award recognises people who have carried out outstanding work in their field, yet whose efforts have not necessarily been widely recognised. It is given by the Marsh Christian Trust.

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