The Paleontologist Who Helped Inspire Jurassic Park’s Alan Grant: Dr. Philip Currie

Paleontology Legend: Dr. Philip J. Currie

Dr. Philip J. Currie stands with arms folded at a dinosaur dig in Edmonton in 2013

Photo credit: Jason Woodhead

Dr. Philip J. Currie

This July, Dinosaur Trips’ guests have the incredible opportunity to dig for dinosaur fossils with one of the leading paleontologists out there.

Dr. Philip J. Currie, the man with the whole dinosaur museum named after him, has had an incredible career in dinosaur research, not to mention the fact that the character of Dr. Alan Grant of Jurassic Park fame was, in part, based on Dr. Philip Currie and his theories.

He also helped found the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and directed the Canada-China Dinosaur Research Project, which was the first cooperative paleontological partnering between China and the West since the 1920s!

Listing his career accomplishments is a feat in itself, so if you want the detailed info on what he’s accomplished in the world of dinosaur research, you can visit his Wikipedia page or his Alberta Order of Excellence award page.

To keep it concise, we’ll just note that Dr. Currie’s scientific accomplishments have led to a greater understanding of dinosaurs and their scientific significance, and his contributions to public awareness of paleontology is truly remarkable. Together with his colleagues he has named 25+ new dinosaurs and other fossil reptiles! Several have been named after him specifically, including most recently the Albertavenator curriei, which means Currie’s Alberta Hunter.

"Other than the name, of course, it also associates my name with Alberta, which is a great thing."

– Dr. Philip Currie on Albertovenator curriei being named after him

A Canadian Paleontology Pioneer

Dr. Phil Currie was born in Brampton, Ontario and grew up in Oakville, Ontario;  just outside of Toronto. The oldest of four boys, he did well in school, in both the arts and the sciences. He first discovered paleontology thanks to a cereal box dinosaur toy. His imagination and curiosity were sparked by the little toy dinosaur and he was off, relentlessly pursuing dinosaur knowledge and discovery from that moment forward to points very few others have matched in their lives. 

He went to the University of Toronto where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology and then to Montreal’s McGill University for a Master of Science degree in biology.

Next came a rare opportunity to apply for a position at the Provincial Museum of Alberta. He didn’t expect to get the position as he didn’t yet have a PhD on his resume, but his enthusiasm and intelligence shone through and the Museum gave him the gig. 

Dr. Phil Currie Digs in Dinosaur Provincial Park and Turns Alberta Into Dinosaur Mecca

He and his family moved out to Edmonton, Alberta to be the curator of paleontology at the Museum (now named the Royal Alberta Museum), with summers spent fossil hunting in the Alberta Badlands. 

And this is where Dr. Currie’s career begins to build its legend. In just a few years, Dr. Currie and his team had found so many specimens from Dinosaur Provincial Park that the museum was in danger of running out of space! He and his team were single-handedly turning Alberta into one of the most important fossil destinations in the world, which meant Alberta needed its own proper dinosaur museum. One worthy of the awesome finds Dr. Currie and his team were making out in the Badlands. 

Video Credit: Alberta Parks

Creating the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology

Credit: Travel Alberta / Davey Lieske

The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology

Dr. Currie was soon named to the planning committee for a new, world-class dinosaur museum in Drumheller, Alberta, and with that work began on creating the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, which opened its doors in 1985 and just welcomed its 15 millionth guests in early 2023. 

But Dr. Phil Currie was just getting started. He would spend the next quarter century digging for and discovering fossils in Mongolia, Argentina, Antarctica, Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park, and myriad other locations around the world.

Revolutionary Dinosaur Theories

Throughout this time, Dr. Currie focused much of his work on his interest in the evolutionary link between modern birds and non-avian dinosaurs. He was a major proponent of the theory that birds descended from dinosaurs. In his work with the China-Canada Dinosaur Project he helped in describing two of the first ever dinosaur specimens that clearly and indisputably showed feathers: Protarchaeopteryx and Caudipteryx. Suddenly it was clear that not only were birds descendents of some dinosaurs, but that some dinosaurs also had feathers!

With this important discovery and description, Dr. Currie suddenly found himself in demand for countless articles and documentaries as people realized that dinosaurs still walked among us in the form of birds.

Meanwhile, he had also become skeptical that large carnivorous dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus and the Allosaurus were solitary animals. But any evidence of these giant meat-eaters hunting in packs eluded him and the world of paleontology science in general. 

Credit Jonathan Chen

Protarchaeopteryx at the Geological Museum of China

But, looking back to the pioneering work of early paleontologist Barnum Brown – aka Mr. Bones aka the man who discovered the first documented Tyrannosaurus fossils – Dr. Currie tracked down a site in Alberta that Barnum Brown had mentioned and discovered some incredible circumstantial evidence that these giant carnivores did in fact cooperate in packs. There he found 12 specimens of Albertosaurus from various age groups. Suddenly imaginations sparked at the idea of not just one Albertosaurus or Gorgosaurus out there on the hunt, but an entire pack of them working together to bring down a kill.

Throughout it all he’s pioneered lab techniques and field research that have transformed the way paleontologists find and examine fossils. He’s been recognized  for his ground-breaking work (literally) with numerous honours and awards, and as mentioned earlier, even has a museum named in his honour (which we will explore during our time in Wembley this July).

A Dinosaur Trips branded poster of a young girl and an Albertosaurus in the Badlands of Alberta

"Don't Be Afraid to Pursue Your Passion" - Dr. Philip J. Currie

Dr. Currie has said that he attributes his success to hard work and luck. 

“Expect to work hard, always have a game plan and don’t be afraid to pursue your passion,” was the advice he gave to the next generation of scientists and young  Canadians in general when he was awarded The Alberta Order of Excellence in 2010. We’ve taken that advice to heart in everything we do here at Dinosaur Trips too. 

He continues to celebrate dinosaurs to this day, publishing an amazing piece for Canadian Science Publishing earlier this year entitled “Celebrating dinosaurs: their behaviour, evolution, growth, and physiology.” It is a must read!

You can join Dr. Philip Currie and the Dinosaur Research Institute this July for the rare opportunity to dig for dinosaur fossils this summer as part of our Badlands & Beyond trip!

Don’t miss out on the chance to be there for Dr. Currie’s next major discovery! 

*The Dinosaur Research Institute hosts the 4-day dig portion of the Badlands & Beyond itinerary independent of Dinosaur Trips. The Dinosaur Research Institute is a not-for-profit organization with the mission to find, manage, and direct financial support for western Canadian dinosaur research by graduate students and scientists.

Exclusive small group trip, number of participants : 6-8 guests total – 5 spots available.

Rate for 12-Day / 11-Night All-Inclusive Itinerary

8 Days – Dinosaur Trips Exclusive Program – USD$4,895 + taxes

4 Days – Fossil Dig with Dr. Currie  – CDN$2,295 per person (approx. USD$1,695, exchange rate dependent)

*All rates based on double-occupancy


The Paleontologist Who Helped Inspire Jurassic Park’s Alan Grant: Dr. Philip Currie

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