Matthew Lamanna

Matthew Lamanna '97

assistant curator of vertebrate paleontology
Carnegie Museum of Natural History

It’s been approximately 66 million years since dinosaurs last roamed the earth— and yet, the creatures still tower over us, accelerating our heart rates on the silver screen, dominating playtime for kids across the globe and captivating the world in museums. Matthew Lamanna ’97, the renowned paleontologist with numerous major discoveries to his name, has dedicated his career to uncovering the past and so we asked him the age-old question:

Q: How would you defend yourself against a dinosaur?

A: “Along with friends in Egypt, Argentina, and here in the U.S., I’ve had the good fortune to have named two brand-new dinosaurs so far this year, Mansourasaurus shahinae and Tratayenia rosalesi. If you could take a time machine back about 80 million years and encounter Mansourasaurus in the flesh, you wouldn’t need to worry too much unless you were wearing a fern costume or you’re one of those tree people from The Lord of the Rings. That’s because Mansourasaurus is a sauropod, a long-necked, elephant-sized plant-eating dinosaur. Unless you went up to Mansourasaurus and poked it with a stick, you’d likely have little to fear.

Tratayenia is another story. This thing was a ravenous, fleet-footed flesh-eater that boasted long jaws brimming with serrated teeth, powerful hind legs, and most remarkably, ginormous forelimbs tipped with claws well over a foot long. At up to 30 feet in length, it was the most formidable predator of the arid forests and plains of southern South America’s Patagonia region some 85 million years ago. If, hypothetically speaking, Jurassic Park were to someday become real, and someone decided to clone Tratayenia, you’d want to steer clear of that part of the island for sure. Because if this beast broke out of its paddock, and it was hungry, you’d have only one chance — RUN.”

The Discovery Man

About 130 million years ago, a supercontinent was beginning to break apart to form the landmasses we know as Africa, South America, Madagascar, India, Australia and Antarctica. Social insects evolved to create complex social systems and flowering plants had recently appeared. Much of the Sahara Desert was a lush tropical coastline, and dinosaurs were at the top of the food chain.

This is the world inhabited by Matt Lamanna ’97, assistant curator of vertebrate paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. Since 1998, Lamanna has traveled to all seven continents — and, in a sense, back in time — on paleontological expeditions that have produced new insights into the creatures that roamed Earth long before humankind.

While pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, Lamanna traveled to Egypt with fellow Penn graduate students where they discovered a Paralititan (“tidal giant”), a giant herbivorous dinosaur that died in an ancient coastal environment in what is now the Sahara.

Following that first major discovery in 2000 — which was chronicled in the two-hour A&E documentary The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt and a book by the same name published by Random House — Lamanna has directed or co-directed field expeditions spanning the globe, from Argentina to China, Egypt to Greenland, uncovering previously unknown dinosaur species such as the 11-foot-tall, ostrich-like Anzu wyliei (a.k.a. the “Chicken from Hell”) and the 120-million-year-old water bird Gansus yumenensis.

Lamanna’s research has received coverage in major national and international news outlets, including CNN, The New York Times, USA Today, Reuters, NPR, the BBC, National Geographic and the Associated Press.

In his role at the Carnegie Museum, Lamanna served as lead scientific adviser for the museum’s $36 million, 18,000-squarefoot Dinosaurs in Their Time exhibition — the country’s third largest exhibit of mounted original dinosaur skeletons. Since 2012, he has been the director of the Antarctic Peninsula Paleontology Project, which has discovered hundreds of fossils from the end of the Age of Dinosaurs in the remote James Ross Basin of Antarctica. His latest co-discoveries in 2018, the Mansourasaurus shahinae and Tratayenia rosalesi, shed light on mysterious dinosaur faunas from near the end of the Cretaceous Period in Africa and South America.

Raised in Waterloo, N.Y., Lamanna double-majored in biology and geoscience at HWS, just 10 miles away from his hometown. He graduated with high honors and was awarded the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society prize. After graduation, he went on to study dinosaur paleontology in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania, earning his M.S. and Ph.D. –Andrew Wickenden ’09


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