‘Jurassic Park’ paleontologist retiring from museum

Matt Volz
Associated Press

Bozeman, Mont. — Jack Horner, the paleontologist who discovered the world’s first dinosaur embryos and found that dinosaurs had nests and cared for their young, is leaving the Montana museum he spent decades filling with fossils from across the globe.

Horner, 69, is one of the best known dinosaur researchers in the world. Michael Crichton based the character Alan Grant on Horner in the 1990 book “Jurassic Park,” and Steven Spielberg brought Horner on as a technical adviser on all of the “Jurassic Park” movies — and Horner did it without a college degree and with dyslexia.

From his base at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, and before that with Princeton University, Horner discovered a dozen dinosaur species, the first dinosaur eggs in the Western Hemisphere, and provided proof of their close relation to birds. He built the Museum of the Rockies from eight dinosaur specimens when he started working there 34 years ago to more than 35,000 today.

As he ponders semi-retirement, he plans to return his attention to education by teaching a class on imagination and creative thinking at Chapman University in California.

His struggles with dyslexia led him to flunk out of college multiple times and initially hindered his ability to raise money for research because the grant applications had to be signed by an advanced-degree holder. He still reads at a third-grade level, and claims to have written more books than he’s read.

Horner solved one funding crisis by seeking $10,000 from the Ranier Brewing Company, whose beer he and his team drank. Princeton, his employer at the time in the late 1970s, balked and gave him the money instead.

That summer in 1979 would result in one of his most important discoveries — dinosaur nests on what was later called Egg Mountain in Montana. He found the site less than a mile from where he had discovered the fossils of young dinosaurs a year earlier.

“That one square mile out there is the richest dinosaur site in the world,” he said.

Little was known then about juvenile dinosaurs, and with the finds, Horner’s career path was set. The money came pouring in from the National Science Foundation and from other grants. The head of the Museum of the Rockies, tired of seeing Horner take the valuable specimens out of Montana, hired him as the museum’s paleontologist.

After that, Horner led as many as nine crews in a single digging season from Montana to Mongolia, and he started building what would become one of the largest tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops collections in the world.

The Museum of the Rockies, which is a part of Montana State University, hasn’t found a new curator yet.