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Edwin Colbert

Geology People

Paleontologist and Science Communicator

Edwin Harris Colbert, was a prominent 20th-century American vertebrate paleontologist and science communicator. He left an indelible mark on the field of paleontology through his groundbreaking research and passion for sharing scientific knowledge with the public.

Born on September 28, 1905, in Clarinda, Iowa, Colbert’s early fascination with fossils and prehistoric life paved the way for a remarkable career in geology and paleontology. Throughout his life, he made significant contributions to our understanding of ancient life forms and played a pivotal role in popularizing paleontology.

Early Life and Education

Edwin H. Colbert’s interest in fossils and natural history began at a young age. Growing up in a small town in Iowa, he spent much of his time exploring the local countryside, where he stumbled upon an array of fossils, sparking his curiosity about Earth’s ancient past.

After completing high school, Colbert pursued his passion for geology and paleontology by enrolling at the University of Nebraska. In 1926, he earned a bachelor’s degree in geology, and his enthusiasm for prehistoric life led him to further his studies at Columbia University, where he received a master’s degree in vertebrate paleontology in 1929.

Contributions to Paleontology

In the early 1930s, Edwin H. Colbert began his professional career as a vertebrate paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City where he worked for 40 years, and then as an emeritus curator.

Colbert’s work at the AMNH focused on the study of dinosaur fossils and other ancient vertebrates as a protégé of Henry Fairfield Osborne. His meticulous research and fossil excavations contributed significantly to our understanding of dinosaur anatomy, behavior, and evolutionary history.n

In 1970, he moved to become curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Museum of Northern Arizona, in Flagstaff.

Science Communication and Outreach

While Edwin H. Colbert was a dedicated researcher, he also recognized the importance of science communication and public outreach. He believed that sharing scientific knowledge with the public was essential to foster curiosity and appreciation for the natural world.

Colbert’s engaging writing style and ability to communicate complex scientific concepts to a broader audience made him a prolific science communicator. He authored numerous books, articles, and popular science publications on paleontology and dinosaurs, making the subject accessible and captivating to readers of all ages.

His book “The Age of Reptiles” (1965) was particularly influential and widely read, introducing countless individuals to the wonders of prehistoric life, as did his several other works.

Academic Career and Recognition

Edwin H. Colbert’s contributions to paleontology and science communication were widely recognized and celebrated. In 1945, he became a full curator at the AMNH, where he curated the fossil mammal collection and continued his research on vertebrate paleontology.

In addition to his work at the museum, Colbert served as a professor of vertebrate paleontology at Columbia University, where he taught and mentored numerous aspiring paleontologists.

Throughout his career, Colbert received various honors and awards, including the prestigious Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1970 for his exceptional contributions to the field of vertebrate paleontology.

Legacy and Impact

Colbert died in 2001 at his home in Flagstaff.

Edwin H. Colbert’s legacy lies not only in his scientific contributions to paleontology but also in his dedication to science communication and education. His ability to communicate complex scientific ideas to a broad audience played a pivotal role in popularizing paleontology and inspiring countless individuals to pursue careers in the sciences.

As a mentor and educator, Colbert’s impact extended beyond his own research. He nurtured the talents of young paleontologists, influencing the next generation of scientists and contributing to the growth of the field.

Moreover, his influence on science communication endures through the continued popularity of his books, which remain widely read and cherished by science enthusiasts around the world.

Other paleontologists have followed his example of bringing the “dry bones” to life for the public.


Edwin H. Colbert’s life and career exemplify the passion for discovery and the importance of communicating scientific knowledge to the public. His contributions to paleontology have left an indelible mark on the field, and his ability to inspire and educate others continues to shape the world of science communication.

As a scientist, educator, and science communicator, Colbert’s work serves as a reminder of the significance of sharing scientific discoveries and fostering curiosity about the natural world. His legacy continues to inspire paleontologists and science enthusiasts alike, motivating future generations to explore the wonders of Earth’s ancient past.