Alan Jack Charig (1927–1997): an overview of his academic accomplishments and role in the world of fossil reptile research
Published:January 01, 2010
Richard T. J. Moody, Darren Naish, 2010. "Alan Jack Charig (1927–1997): an overview of his academic accomplishments and role in the world of fossil reptile research", Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective, R. T. J. Moody, E. Buffetaut, D. Naish, D. M. Martill
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Alan Jack Charig was Curator of Fossil Amphibians, Reptiles and Birds at the British Museum (Natural History) from 1961 to 1987. We here review his academic accomplishments and the impact of his work within vertebrate palaeontology. His position gave him considerable influence in the discussion of emerging theories and in how vertebrate palaeontology was portrayed to the public. His main areas of scientific interest included biogeography and faunal provinces, the evolution of an erect gait in archosaurs, the systematics and diversity of Triassic proterosuchians, erythrosuchians and their relatives, and the origin of dinosaurs. Besides Triassic archosaurs, ornithischian, theropod and sauropodomorph dinosaurs, he published on gastropods, amphisbaenians and plesiosaurs. While he did produce some lasting contributions to the literature, it is telling that he failed to publish the specimen-based analyses he apparently planned to, despite citations of ‘in press’ manuscripts. Between the 1970s and 1990s Alan opposed or offered alternatives to many emerging theories and schools of thought. He is best described as ‘conservative’ in terms of his views on palaeontological controversies and his opinions would not conform with those favoured by the majority of palaeontologists today. He was highly critical of the concept of dinosaur monophyly, the dinosaurian origin of birds, of the division of archosaurs into a crocodilian and bird-dinosaur clade, and of cladistics. Several of his papers are ICZN (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature) submissions, published in order to clear up taxonomic problems, and they served to bring nomenclatural stability. Contradicting views exist of him as a scientist and a popularist. He has, not without contradiction, been described as intellectually arrogant, most clubbable, humorous, charming, an academic snob, political and meticulous. His lasting fame, however, is that very few of us live to be referred to as the ‘Carl Sagan of the BBC’ or have the good fortune to describe a dinosaur as important as Baryonyx.
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Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective
The discovery of dinosaurs and other large extinct ‘saurians’—a term under which the Victorians commonly lumped ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs and their kin—makes exciting reading and has caught the attention of palaeontologists, historians of science and the general public alike. The papers in this collection go beyond the familiar tales about famous ‘fossil hunters’ and focus on relatively little-known episodes in the discovery and interpretation (from both a scientific and an artistic point of view) of dinosaurs and other inhabitants of the Mesozoic world. They cover a long time span, from the beginnings of ‘modern’ scientific palaeontology in the 1700s to the present, and deal with many parts of the world, from the Yorkshire coast to Central India, from Bavaria to the Sahara. The characters in these stories include professional palaeontologists and geologists (some of them well-known, others quite obscure), explorers, amateur fossil collectors, and artists, linked together by their interest in Mesozoic creatures.