Philip J. Currie | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Philip J. Currie

Philip J. Currie, palaeontologist, museum curator (born 13 March 1949 in Brampton, ON). In the early 1980s, Currie played a lead role in the founding of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta. He later became the namesake of another institution, the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, which opened in September 2015 near Grande Prairie, Alberta. Much of Currie’s research has focussed on fossils from Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park and other Cretaceous sites, as well as the evolution of carnivorous dinosaurs and the origin of birds.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
More than 300 first-quality dinosaur skeletons have been pulled from a 27-km stretch along the Red Deer River since digging began there in the 1880s .

Education and Early Career

Inspired as a child by a toy dinosaur in a cereal box, Currie went on to study zoology at the University of Toronto, and then vertebrate palaeontology at McGill, under the tutelage of Robert Carroll, himself a major figure in the study of extinct animals. After receiving his doctorate, Currie became the curator of earth sciences at the Provincial Museum of Alberta (now the Royal Alberta Museum) in Edmonton in 1976. In 1981, this department became the nucleus of the new Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology (now the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology).


Currie is an important figure in dinosaur science, and has specialized in fossils from Alberta's Dinosaur Provincial Park as well as other Cretaceous sites (dating from the latter part of the dinosaur age) around the world. He is particularly interested in the evolution and classification of carnivorous dinosaurs (theropods) and their living descendants, birds. He has painstakingly investigated the skeletal anatomy of many of these, including the feathered theropods (Protarchaeopteryx and Caudipteryx) of China. The find was considered clear evidence of the relationship between birds and dinosaurs. Other research has focused on dinosaur footprints, as well as dinosaur growth and variation, including descriptions of embryonic duck-billed dinosaur bones discovered inside their fossilized crushed eggshells at Devil's Coulee in southern Alberta.

Currie is well known for his reconstructions of dinosaur herding behaviour and migration. Since these ideas are largely speculative, they appear more prominently in his popular articles than in his scientific publications. In particular, he has suggested that the horned dinosaurs that left their remains in the "Centrosaurus bonebed" of Dinosaur Provincial Park were herding animals caught in a torrential flood while crossing a river. Currie has described other horned dinosaurs, such as Pachycephalosaurus, as long-distance migrants, moving north and south each year according to the seasons. These hypotheses are at the heart of Currie's motivations as a palaeontologist — to imagine the dinosaurs as living animals in their ancient environments.


Much of Currie's success has been the result of cooperation and teamwork. He has an ability to coordinate the efforts of others, and in this regard has edited or co-edited a number of important collections of dinosaur-related works, including the monumental Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs published in 1997 by Academic Press. Currie was prominently involved in the Canada-China Dinosaur Project in the late 1980s. The project was the first Chinese-Western collaboration since the American Museum of Natural History’s expeditions to Outer Mongolia in the early part of the century. Numerous important fossil discoveries were made through the Canada-China Dinosaur Project. Among them was the identification of a new species of theropods through the find of a group of young armoured dinosaurs (Pinacosaurus) that perished in a sandstorm in the Gobi Desert. The project helped forge important ties between palaeontologists from both countries, greatly improving the collective understanding of the Late Cretaceous world. The cooperation was still continuing into the late 1990s, with Currie making regular trips to China and hosting visits by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences to the Royal Tyrrell.

Further Reading