Roy Chapman Andrews was a true explorer, discoverer, and science educator. He spent his career traveling the world and collecting fossils for the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Andrews’ interest fossils is best described in his own words:
“Palaeontology is the Aladdin’s lamp of the most deserted and lifeless regions of the earth; it touches the rocks and there spring forth in orderly succession the monarchs of the past and the ancient river streams and savannahs wherein they flourished. The rocks usually hide their story in the most difficult and inaccessible places.” On the Trail of Ancient Man (1926).
One way Andrews uncovered stories within the rocks was by leading the Central Asiatic Expeditions in the 1920’s. These missions explored the Mongolian desert and uncovered numerous dinosaur fossils. I recently published an online article on Andrews, but here are a few fast facts about this interesting historical figure and his work.
1. Andrews introduced dinosaur eggs to science! During the Central Asiatic expeditions, a series of trips to the Mongolian desert to collect fossils for AMNH, Andrews’ team uncovered many fossils, including numerous new species of dinosaurs. Perhaps their most impressive discovery, however, was the first ever scientifically recognized dinosaur eggs. The eggs, pictured left, were found at an incredibly dense fossil site that the team called Flaming Cliffs.
2. But dinosaur eggs were not what Andrews had been looking for… Andrews had traveled to Asia because he wanted to find “the missing link” between humans and apes. He had been inspired by the director of the AMNH, Henry Fairfield Osborn, who believed that humans’ origins would be traced back to Asia, rather than Africa (as many did, except Darwin!). Therefore, according to Osborn, fossils of early man would exist in Asia. However, as scientists now know, the sediments Andrews’ team explored were far too old to contain hominin fossils. Instead, Andrews’ expeditions are remembered for their successful recovery of dinosaur and dinosaur egg fossils.
3. A dinosaur bears Andrews’ name! One of the new species of dinosaurs found in the Flaming Cliffs was described in 1923 by Andrew’s colleagues at AMNH (Granger and Gregory). They named this new species, which lived approximately 75 million years ago, Protoceratops andrewsii, after Andrews!
4. Andrews truly loved exploring! Reflecting on his life, Andrews once wrote: “I was born to be an explorer. There never was any decision to make. I couldn’t be anything else and be happy, the desire to see new places, to discover new facts- the curiosity of life always has been a resistless driving force to me” (The Business of Exploring 1935). In fact, when he became the director of the AMNH in 1934 he struggled with the lack of physical exercise and excitement compared to what he was used to from his expeditions. He later transitioned to Honorary Director, which allowed him to spend more time outdoors.
Conclusion. This post provides just a taste of the life and work of an interesting naturalist. If you’d like to know more, check out my Embryo Project Encyclopedia entry “Roy Chapman Andrews (1884-1960).” I’ll leave you with a classic Andrews quote:
For More RC Andrews:
- Bressan, David. “Roy Chapman Andrews and the Kingdom of the Cretaceous Skulls” History of Geology Blog.
- Gallenkamp, Charles. Dragon Hunter: Roy Chapman Andrews and the Central Asiatic Expeditions. New York: Viking, 2001.
- The American Natural History Museum Digital Collection Central Asiatic Expedition Photos