I’m Dr. Kirk Johnson, the Sant Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Here, I oversee the nation’s natural history collection: more than 146 million specimens and artifacts that together comprise the largest collection of its kind in the world. Each year, the museum hosts more than 5 million visitors and its scientists publish more than 800 scientific research papers and name more than 300 new species.

On June 8, 2019, we opened The David H. Koch Hall of Fossils-Deep Time, a 31,000 square-foot exhibition that interprets the history of life on Earth and its relevance to the future of humanity. The exhibit is packed with real fossils and skeletons including a Tyrannosaurus rex from Montana, an elephant-sized EremotheriumGround Sloth from Panama, a Diplodocus from Utah, a Stegosaurus from Colorado, a 50-million-year-old palm frond from Alaska and hundreds more. The museum also houses a 52-foot-long model of the extinct Carcharocles megalodon shark.

Before my arrival to the Smithsonian in 2012, I worked as a paleontologist at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science where I led expeditions in 18 states and 11 countries. My research focuses on fossil plants and the extinction of the dinosaurs, and has taken me from the polar regions to the equatorial rainforests. In 2011, I led an ice age excavation near Snowmass Village in Colorado that recovered parts of more than 50 mastodon skeletons.

I’m known for my scientific articles, popular books, museum exhibitions, documentaries, and collaborations with artists. My recent documentaries include Ice Age Death Trap (2012), Making North America (2015), The Great Yellowstone Thaw (2017), and The Day the Dinosaurs Died (2017). My current show, NOVA’S Polar Extremes, which premiered on PBS on Feb. 5, uses the fossil record from the Arctic and the Antarctic to show that the polar regions were ice-free and forested for much of Earth’s history.

My recent book, Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline, The Travels of an Artist and a Scientist along the Shores of the Prehistoric Pacific (2018) explores the deep history of the West Coast from California to Alaska. And my upcoming book, Trees are made of Gas, The Story of Carbon and Climate, will be published this fall.

I’m originally from Bellevue, Washington and have a bachelor’s degree from Amherst College, a master’s from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in geology and paleobotany from Yale. Ask me anything!


Comments: 844 • Responses: 93  • Date: 

justsomedude322209 karma

What's your favorite dinosaur?

Kirk_Johnson1309 karma

Triceratops. No question. But I also like Anzu and Deinocheirus.

piefordays185 karma

Hey Kirk! Thanks so much for the AMA.

I’m a huge movie buff and the ending scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Ark is shown in the massive warehouse always captivated me as a kid. I think the closest thing to an endless warehouse full of hundreds of rows of artifacts is the collection behind closed doors at the Smithsonian.

Obviously, very small amounts of people have access to these types of rooms. I believe you may. So my 11 year old self would like to ask: Whenever you are staring at some of the most important pieces of history of all time only a foot away, do you ever feel the gravity of the whole situation? Do you ever actually feel the importance fill the room with these pieces when you are handling them and looking at them? Because your experience is drastically different from me being able to see it on the wall in glass. That’s exciting!

Kirk_Johnson1269 karma

You have put your finger on it. The most exciting part of my job is that I have access to the entire collection of 146 million objects that compose the national collection. This collection is essentially infinite and it would take a lifetime to see it all. Each year more than 10,000 specialists come to visit the collections and use them for their scientific research. The national collection is a genuine national treasure.

jlm030552 karma

Not OP, but I did my high school senior project on being a paleontologist because, well, I wanted to be a paleontologist! I got some really neat opportunities for job shadowing that included hanging out with a really awesome professor in Rochester, NY for a week and getting a private tour of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. While at Carnegie, I got to go back into the collection rooms and touched a piece of the actual Tyrannosaurus rex skull. The teeth are massive, and it was probably one of the more memorable and awesome experiences of my life! The thought of it brings just as much excitement and feeling of "science is fucking amazing" today as it did eleven years ago.

Kirk_Johnson173 karma

T. rex teeth are like railroad spikes. Genuine bonecrushers.

Ula_St-James166 karma

If you could describe an exhibit to a person who might never get the chance to see it, which would you choose? And how would you describe it?

Kirk_Johnson1181 karma

That's a broad question. I like different exhibitions for different reasons. Our newest exhibition is the David H. Koch Hall Of Fossils-Deep Time. It opened on June 8, 2019 and displays hundreds of fossils and fossil skeletons that tell the story of the history of life on early from the first life about 3.5 billion years ago until the present and even takes the visitor into the future. We do this because humans are so prevalent on Earth that they have become a major part of our planet's history. The exhibit is for everyone from little kids to world experts and includes lots of different types of tools to help everyone enjoy and understand it. We even have an app that guided sight impaired visitors through the space.

ratatoskrest164 karma

Why are the eggs of herbivore dinosaurs more round and carnivore dinosaurs more elongated?

Kirk_Johnson1304 karma

Good question. I don't know.

Eojin9642151 karma

What's the most valuable piece of history that you ever held in your hands? What would have happened if you, say, dropped and smashed it?

Kirk_Johnson1332 karma

I've held lots of extremely rare and fragile fossils and I have broken quite a few. That is why they invented glue.

Portarossa110 karma

How does it feel knowing that, like astronauts and ballerinas, you have a job that kids aspire to grow up to have? You ever get a little rush knowing that you're living the dream for a decent number of six year olds?

Kirk_Johnson1122 karma

Absolutely. That is why I am always so enthusiastic.

jlm0305102 karma

I wanted to be a paleontologist up through getting my BS - I even minored in paleontology. I was discouraged by the seeming lack of jobs and wound up joining the military and am now getting a PhD in veterinary parasitology.

What is your most memorable experience during field work? Mine is getting kicked in the head by a foal and getting an ambulance ride to the ER, where I got six staples. I apologized profusely to my PI for getting blood on him.

Kirk_Johnson1134 karma

I recently rode a helicopter up on to a glacier. When I landed, I climbed into a van and banged my head on the doorjam and had to get staples in the top of my head. Lot's of blood but only on me. Not my favorite story but close to yours.

hellomynameisli80 karma

Do you like the song I Am A Paleontologist by They Might Be Giants?

I've loved that song for a long time, and I've always wondered what actual Paleontologist think about it.

Kirk_Johnson1111 karma

I love it

You can also check out the song I did with Ray Troll and the Ratfish Wrangles entitled: "I am a paleobotanist" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxSQWImSC0M

wobblebase77 karma

What is the most ancient species or genus of plant that I can raise in my living room? (Without wrecking my heating bill preferably.)

Kirk_Johnson187 karma


84736255271 karma

The David H. Koch Hall of Fossils

How do you feel about corporate oligopolys such as Koch Industries destroying the environment while donating to philanthropic endeavours such as yours? Is it possible to maintain our shared history without gratifying the billionaires who are destroying our planet?

Kirk_Johnson1103 karma

In general, I am very unhappy about the way humans mistreat the natural world. We are all part of the modern economy and, as such, we are all part of this challenge. It is much easier to point fingers than it is to make positive change. I see museums a part of the solution set to the 21st century. Museums can both present the natural world and also share our growing understanding of how to study and preserve it

SwissMyCheeseYet70 karma

In the TV show Bones, the main character works at and solves crime from a place called "The Jeffersonian Institute", which I always assumed was that creative universe's Smithsonian. If an FBI agent approached you with an offer to join forces and solve crimes, would you take them up on the offer?

Kirk_Johnson1193 karma

The truth is that the FBI's forensics unit got its start by consulting with the physical anthropologists at the Smithsonian. We are the original CSI.

Xylitolisbadforyou64 karma

What does Sant mean?

Kirk_Johnson178 karma

It is short for Roger and Vicki Sant who endowed the Director position at the museum

AmIhere856 karma

What's something that hasn't been discovered but we're fairly certain is out there that you would like to see revealed in your lifetime?

Kirk_Johnson1119 karma

How plants communicate.

MaverickDago53 karma

So I get to drink cocktails and wander around the museum in a few nights, which exbibit do I absolutely have to make sure I stop and see?

Kirk_Johnson166 karma

Deep Time

sofalee12849 karma

What’s the most bizarre place you’ve worked at?

Kirk_Johnson1125 karma

The rainforest of the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. We were trying to find fossil plants in the dark understory of a modern rainforest. The rocks were wet and black. It was pouring rain. We had to use headlamps in the middle of the day to see anything.

mintoreoz44 karma

What’s the process like to be able to work in paleontology?

Kirk_Johnson172 karma

Quite rewarding. It's a great mixture of museum/lab science and outdoor exploration and excavation. You can do either or both. Most jobs are at universities or museums and there are lots of opportunities for volunteers and interns.

Oak98739 karma

Hello Dr Kirk.

So what's the verdict: did the T-Rex have feathers?

Kirk_Johnson178 karma

Jury is still debating but the new Tyrannosaur exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York makes a pretty good case for feathers. As I recall, that the smaller ones did and that the larger ones didn't.

PlotTwistedMom39 karma

I grew up on an archaeological dig (every summer for about 12 years) that my dad was in charge of in the 80s in the south east of France, so lots of neolithic, paleolithic, gallo-roman and early Christian stuff... No dinosaurs but pretty similar field nonetheless. It was an absolutely amazing way to learn about all these eras, hands on! Anyway, my question is: do you miss being in the field, getting your hands dirty digging? Or do you still get out on some projects?

Kirk_Johnson135 karma

I miss it alot so I still try to do it a little and I also work on viseo productions so that I get out to amazing sites. Polar Extremes is an example.

NoCureForCuriosity35 karma

How has the recent pull back or censoring of science in federally funded agencies and institutions affected your job and the museum?

Kirk_Johnson152 karma

Some of our federal collaborators have had some of their programs redirected. Our federal funding levels have increased slightly.

GuyD42733 karma

Any career advice for a high school kid interested in both paleontology and zoology? I’m hoping he ends up at the Bronx Zoo but I have to pay for his education first, lol.

Kirk_Johnson154 karma

Have him intern in both and see what he likes better.

mommaofdragons28 karma

How did you get to where you are?

My little brother is currently starting his journey to a career in palaeontology, do you have any tips on how to be successful or what kinds of opportunities there are out there?

Kirk_Johnson163 karma

I started as a 4 year old who liked fossils and I never lost the faith. My main piece of advice is to cultivate as many mentors as possible. Science is all about people.

Norgeroff26 karma

What color is your toothbrush?

Kirk_Johnson148 karma


Lil-Lanata25 karma

What would you like to know about your favorite dinosaur that we don't already?

Personally I'd like to know why they had so many different styles of decorative... Things all over them.

Which ones were functional and which are decorative is still debatable I think.

Kirk_Johnson171 karma

I'd love to know the real story about their color.

Greasfire1124 karma

What’s a part of your museum that most people overlook, but shouldn’t?

Kirk_Johnson134 karma

The bone hall

haysoos224 karma

To me one of the most fascinating things about things like the Eocene polar environment would be how familiar, and yet oddly alien they would be.

For example, with lush forests growing on the Arctic islands, inhabited by flying lemurs and tapirs, the region still would have been above the Arctic circle and in total darkness for months of the year.

How do you think the plants and animals dealt with this tropical Arctic long night? Did they hibernate? Did the plants go dormant while animals survived on cached reserves?

Kirk_Johnson129 karma

Two thoughts. There are plenty of nocturnal animals in tropical rain forests and there are plenty of mammals that survive today's frigid polar winters. I think that much biology worried less about light and dark than we do. There is the issue of how plants photosynthesis and what dormancy would looks like. There is an argument that the seasonal low light would promote evergreen foliage because it would be too metabolically expensive to make new leaves each summer. A lot still to learn about this wonderful extinct ecosystem.

kraftymiles24 karma

My Uncle is a Carbonate Sedimentologist. What can I get him for his birthday next month?

Kirk_Johnson135 karma

An ammonite

TesseractToo23 karma

Hi, thank you s much for doing this, what an awesome career you have!

When I was little there were two bronze dinosaurs in front of the museum, I think a sauropod and a triceratops, IIRC - I have a very early childhood memory of my dad lifting me up on one and climbing on the tail and how parts of them were polished from kids climbing them and wanting to be big enough to get to the back of the sauropod but I was too small. I went back as an adult in 2002 and they were gone. They were really special <3

What happened to them? Where are they now?

Kirk_Johnson148 karma

The Triceratops was retired because it stood on National Park land and I believe that there was some concern of kids falling off. The bronze Triceratops skull is now located in the garden on the southeast side of the museum.

PumpkinTom23 karma

I'm going to have to go with the old classic, what is your favourite dinosaur? And why?

Kirk_Johnson147 karma

Triceratops (see below). Why is because it was the first dinosaur I ever found.

donfromswitzerland21 karma

Hi Kirk.

What is your view on the recent anti-science movement? Is it something that you can feel as Sant Director of the Smithsonian?

Kirk_Johnson154 karma

I am extremely disappointed with the anti-science movement. Science is an incredibly powerful tool for understanding the world/universe and creating new technologies. It's basically one of the most effective ways that we grow and share knowledge with future generations. In my role as director, I strive to help our audience understand what science is and why it is important.

blk_sabbath21 karma

How do you and the other scientists you work alongside cope in this new age of misinformation? I have a very difficult time explaining to people (who just won’t hear it) how vital it is to take steps to save our environment and I’m not a scientist. Thanks in advance.

Kirk_Johnson130 karma

We battle it with information and science (and Reddit)

Lil-Lanata20 karma

Also, how are you?

Having a good day?

Kirk_Johnson129 karma

Excellent thank you. How are you?

oldenbka19 karma

I've always been interested in the vast amounts of artifacts that museums hold which *never or rarely get seen by the public. How do you decide which items to display in exhibition and which items to leave in archive? Also, in relation to this question, what item(s) in the museum archives do you think are fascinating but are not on display?

Kirk_Johnson126 karma

Most museum collections are saved because of their information content and their relevance to the creation of knoew knowledge through scholarship. Exhibition is only one use of collections. Think of them more as the planetary archive.

Fizzt18 karma

Are you aware that you share the same name as the man who created goatse, one of the most famous shock images on the internet?

Kirk_Johnson114 karma

No, that is news to me.

flippydingdongrob18 karma

What do you make of the cataclysms that happened in the late Pleistocene (Younger Dryas) and what implications did these events have for human populations? How severe was Meltwater Pulse 1B (the great deluge?) 11600 years ago in your opinion?

Kirk_Johnson121 karma

It was certainly an exciting time that was marked by warming temperatures and rising sea level. It pre-dated civilazation so people didn't have much in the way of permanent structures to worry about. My sense is that people are quite resilient and that the people that experienece this time were able to roll with the punches.

GringoTheDingoAU17 karma

If you could bring back one dinosaur, which one would you choose?

Kirk_Johnson120 karma


glennjitsu16 karma

Are they actual real dinosaur bones, or just the regular castings made of bonemeal from chickens?

Kirk_Johnson124 karma


Benjaminbuttcrack16 karma

If you could ride one dinosaur into battle which one would you ride?

Kirk_Johnson123 karma


FunkTheFreak15 karma


What is something that people might not know about paleontology that you think more people should know about paleontology?

Kirk_Johnson146 karma

All of the best fossils are still in the ground wating to be discovered.

bawyn15 karma

Have you been to the Canadian Fossil Discovery Centre? Any thoughts on marine reptile exhibits coming in the near future?

Kirk_Johnson132 karma

I've been to Manitoba but not since the Centre opened. The plains of Manitoba have excellent fossil remains from the seaway that split North American in half about 70-90 million years ago.

vjcheng15 karma

Will you have any input on the Social Media Specialist position being hired for the NMNH? As a new paleobotanist it makes me so happy to see the wealth of fossil plants and insects in the new hall as it paints a more complete picture of the ecosystem during the Mesozoic. Have you had a chance to look at my dissertation on the new species from the Morrison yet?

Kirk_Johnson121 karma

I won't have input on that position. I haven't looked at your thesis yet but will do so. It came in when I was in the field and I have an email backlog. Thanks for sending it.

GenevieveLeah15 karma

I have young kids. Any recommendations for resources to get them excited about learning about dinosaurs?

Kirk_Johnson143 karma

How young? Dinosaur Train on PBS is excellent. Obviously, your nearest museum. Also, get them outside and exploring nature.

zombiepoke13 karma

Is there anything new that you've learned on the job that has absolutely blown you away? Either from something coming in as an exhibit, or something you've worked on yourself?

Kirk_Johnson140 karma

Being a scientists guarentees that you will be blow away on a regular basis. There are amazing discoveries every week. Life could not be more interesting.

fafafoohi913 karma

In the first Jurassic Park film they touch on technology and it’s negative impact on paleontologists. Have you experienced anything negative due to advances in technology?

Kirk_Johnson131 karma

The atomic bomb is a start. I'm also not to excited about facial recognition software and the political misuse of social media

TypicalFinn12 karma

Does climate change have any effect on fossils yet to be discovered? I'd imagine permafrost melting would expose previously hidden skeletons and cause erosion.

Kirk_Johnson117 karma

You are right that melting permafrost and ice fields are releasing lots of fossil and human artifacts. Most fossils however are found in bedrock and it is easiest to find fossils where the bedrock is not covered by soil or plants (think deserts). Coastal erosion can also expose fossils.

LegendLegionS12 karma

Is there something special in the basement, you really want on display?

Kirk_Johnson130 karma

The is a 5 ton giant lycopod tree that didn't make the cut for Deep Time. It needs a big room.

orcats12 karma

What would you say to/do you have an opinion on the conspiracy theories that the Smithsonian hides evidence of giants?

(Sorry, I had to ask)

Kirk_Johnson119 karma

It is nonsense. I know the collections and we don't have giants. I can guarentee you that we would widely publicize them if they existed. Science is an honest endeavour.

notelizabeth12 karma

Can tell me about a cool b-list prehistoric animal? (I love learning about cool animals that don't get much picture book coverage like Okapis or Aardwolves)

Kirk_Johnson117 karma

Hyaeondon, Uintatherium, and Barbourafelis would be where I would start.

killakidz711 karma

Out of curiosity, have you collaborated with a Dr. Rosmand Kinzler? She's my aunt and is currently a Senior Director at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan!

Kirk_Johnson112 karma

I have not. What is her expertise?

fuckyou_redditmods11 karma

How did you enter the field of paleontology? What attracted you to it? Do you consider it to be a viable career choice for students in 2020 and beyond?

Kirk_Johnson116 karma

I loved fossils as a kid. Then I became a geologist. It is definitely a viable career choice.

free2game11 karma

How often do people think you're the goatse guy?

Kirk_Johnson13 karma


tehmlem11 karma

Have you figured out a way to harness the intense fascination all little boys have with dinosaurs? Yeah, they're all in 4th grade but there's so many of them. Plus they've got tiny hands which I feel like would be useful.

Kirk_Johnson112 karma

Excellent point. Maybe a new energy source.

Rlyeh_Dispatcher11 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA, Dr. Johnson. I visited the Smithsonian a few months ago and was completely blown away by just how cutting edge the curation and design of the Deep Time gallery is. Can you briefly describe the creative process behind creating an exhibition like the Deep Time exhibit? How did you and your team formulate a narrative for telling natural history and translate early ideas into reality? Was there anything interesting that got left on the cutting room floor?

Second, do you have any advice for anyone who wants to go into museum curation (in any field)?

Kirk_Johnson113 karma

Severla large teams worked hard for a decade to balance scientific accuracy with educational impact with design elegance. It was a brutal process but I love the result. Many good ideas, images, and fossils are on the cutting room floor.

As for advice, meet as many museum people as possible and learn theiur pathways and then use the one that is the best fit for you.

Jesters9 karma

With advances in technology, what discoveries have been made that contradict/build on previous research you’ve been a part of?

Additionally, what are the emerging technologies or research methods that most excite you?

Kirk_Johnson119 karma

This is a huge questions with many answers. Just as a start, I love GPS, LIDAR, Side-scan sonar, micro-CT scanning, electron microscopes, mass spectrometers, digital cameras, 3D scanners, the whole suite of genomic tools, and helicopters.

Oh yes, and my favorite tools are still shovels and pick axes.

flyguysd8 karma

In the episode of Nova you glossed over the issue of ocean acidification yet I have heard it is a more immediate concern than sea level rise. What consequences will result over the next 50 years from ocean acidification and what can we do to minimize its impact?

Kirk_Johnson112 karma

There is only so much you can do in a two-hour show. Acidification is an increasingly imporatnt problem. You can decrease the impact bu helping to decrease carbon emmissions

Current_Selection8 karma

Other than the dinosaur exhibit, what are your other favorites? (I really like the epidemic and hall of human origins ones)

Kirk_Johnson113 karma

They are all great. I like Outbreak since we are giving a digital version at no cost to museums around the world and it's pretty timely now with the Coronovirus

ChangeMyDespair7 karma

Me, too. The Hall of Human Origins was awesome.

I was amazed how much had been updated in (at the time) the five years since the exhibit was opened.

Kirk_Johnson110 karma

A fair bit. Curator Rick Potts is very good at adding new discoveries.

OverLordJesus7 karma

I am a geology undergrad, did you follow your planned career path or did you take the opportunities that were presented to you which lead you to where you are now?

Kirk_Johnson17 karma

I didn't have a plan but I did have a very strong interest in paleontology and that helped me grab the opportunities when they came.

biloutte7 karma

Do you have an ethical dilemma with dinosaur fossils being 'monetized'? Can that be dismissed as simply part of capitalism (which in itself can be deemed to be good or bad for museums) or do you feel like museums paying millions for fossils opens up the door to potential inequality problems between museums? Can museums be in the red, or must they become by default <for profit>?

Kirk_Johnson112 karma

I would prefer that rare fossils would be preserved for the public trust. There are however many types of common fossils and I think it is great for people to own them as a way of connecting themselves with Earth History. In the countries where dinosaurs sales are legal (like the US) then I don't think that such sales are unethical. When museums do buy fossil, they usually use funds provided by donors.

Museums can't operate in the red because they will go extinct.

JessNei6 karma

Is there anything of Teddy Roosevelt's that's too exclusive for the general public?

Kirk_Johnson112 karma

Not sure that I understand the question but we do have more that 5,000 specimens collected by TR.

FromTheWildSide6 karma

Does your team incorporate any machine learning tools to manage and research such an immense collection ?

Kirk_Johnson15 karma

We are experimenting in this arena

WeNeedPeace6 karma

What is your favorite exhibit there?

Kirk_Johnson17 karma

Deep Time and Bones Hall

dooj886 karma

i was there yesterday for the first time in a long time, and the exhibit is really stunning. the flow 'though time' is a bit confusing as there are many ways to wander through the exhibit, but over all the presentation is wonderful. my question is when the seas were higher all those millions of years ago, what was the climate of DC at that time? underwater? are there dinosaur fossils in the mid Atlantic? it seemed to focus on the midwest and most western states when discussing north american dinosaur fossils.

Kirk_Johnson16 karma

The exhibit has some climate curves which are helpful to think about sea level over the last few million years. For older times, the continents themselves go up and down quite a bit. It is a cool and complicated topic and the exhibit will likely ask as many questions as it answers. It is true that the American West has yielded the vast majority of America dinosaurs (but check out the North America dinosaur map near the paleolab).

NYstate6 karma

What's your favorite weird historical fact?

Kirk_Johnson18 karma

The polar regions were forested.

LostBob6 karma

What do you feel about the relatively recent resurgence of Creationism and “Creation Scientists”? Do you feel they have any impact on your work? Are there any books you’d recommend for educating someone taught Creationism?

Kirk_Johnson112 karma

I was rasied a creationists so I hcan say that the main resurgences happened in the 1910-20s and the 1970-80s. Ron Number's book The Creationists is a good place to start. Also the National Center for Science Education.

ChangeMyDespair3 karma

Are there any books you’d recommend for educating someone taught Creationism?

Personally, I'd recommend Evolution vs. Creationism by Dr. Eugenie C. Scott of the National Center for Science Education. NCSE in general, and Dr. Scott in general, have long fought the good fight against teaching non-science in public school science classes.

See also NCSE's web site.

(edit: added missing word)

AmazonPriceBot3 karma

$29.95 - Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction

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Upvote if this was helpful. PM to report issues and my human will review.

Kirk_Johnson13 karma

I just had lunch with Ron Numbers who wrote the history of American Creationism. The book is called The Creationists. The best was to understand something is to understand its history.

Giboon6 karma

What is the biggest challenge in paleontology these days?

Kirk_Johnson17 karma

Land access to productive sites

calangodragon5 karma

There's a video on youtube about a guy clamming Dinossaur aren't (and, never were) real.


Are you familiar with this video or its (pseudo?)arguments? Why, do you think, people go looking for stuff like this?

Kirk_Johnson133 karma

I have seen so many real dinosaurs and I have found many more. That guy is ignoring reality and I feel sorry for him.

rdgrdmdfld5 karma

If the government came to you and said they had found a group of living Neanderthals* and needed your help to communicate with them, would you be able to?

Feel free to substitute for Homo Habilis (or whatever) if that's more possible 🤷‍♂️

Kirk_Johnson15 karma

That is an excellent question. I'm sure that we could make some progress with body language.

lemonfree4 karma

What is your favorite exhibition you've done? What is your current favorite exhibition in the museum?

Kirk_Johnson19 karma

My personal best if the Prehistoic Journey exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. It opened in 1995. The Deep Time exhibit at NMNH opened last June. I oversaw the project but it was untaken by a large and talented team.

ManojAbhiram0074 karma

Hey Kirk, thanks for the AMA. I got two questions for you

  1. What do you enjoy the most being a paleontologist and the Want Director at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural history?

  2. What in your opinion is the most valuable artifact/fossil in the museum?

Kirk_Johnson14 karma

Every single day is full of amazing activities, people, and discoveries. The Hope Diamond tops our list.

erichinnw4 karma

Hi! I live in DC and took my parents to the museum this week. I (unconsciously) always expect top quality from a Smithsonian, but I was really impressed by the exhibits there. We spent a lot of time specifically in the insect area and the mammals - both were outstanding.

What's your favorite exhibit?

Kirk_Johnson19 karma

My personal favorite is the bones hall where you can see skeletons of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. It is an old exhibit built in 1965 so we will have to renovate it eventually but I just love seeing so many different kinds of skeletons.

Of course, the new Deep Time exhibit is amazing.

deedee252524 karma

My son is 4 and a dinosaur nut. I want to get him a good book about dinosaurs - do you have a favorite?

Kirk_Johnson14 karma

Cruisin the Fossil Freeway

LaffertyDaniel83 karma

You said you've led expeditions in 18 states. Have you ever done one in Oklahoma? That is where I'm from so I'm curious if there are any interesting things you've found here.

Kirk_Johnson14 karma

There are fantastic fossils in OK but I have never dug there. I hope to someday.

squintinghamlet3 karma

Do believe there is enough evidence to support the younger dryas impact hypothesis?

The massive changes in temperature and sea levels seem (to me, the layman) so much quicker than could be attributed to natural causes

Kirk_Johnson15 karma

I'm skeptical about the Younger Dryas imapct hypothesis. I have not seen enough evidence for it. Natural causes at the end of a glacial period can be awfully quite due to the mobility of melt water.

EErin_not_AAron3 karma

Just a couple of demographic questions about your field: How many of your colleagues are women? How does that compare with the ratio of men:women in undergrad science programs (that might lead to your field)?

Thanks! (And I just taught my 5yo son about two new dinosaurs you mentioned: deinocheirus and anzu. He’s ecstatic!)

Kirk_Johnson19 karma

Women are at parity with men in the undergrad and grad level but not yet at the professor/curator level. That will change. Check out our new Bearded Lady exhibit


wawawakes3 karma

After excavations are done, are the smaller bones / eggs ever left on site, out in the elements?

Kirk_Johnson13 karma

Usually not

Armagannon3 karma

What Discovery were you most excited about?

Kirk_Johnson14 karma

The Snowmass Discovery. See the NOVA show "Ice Age Death Trap"

fragile_cedar3 karma

Any comment on the theft of Native American cultural artifacts by archaeologists working for the Heyer foundation, which the Smithsonian became the ultimate beneficiary of? An example would be the excavation/looting of the Hawikuh-Cibola Zuni complex led by Frederick Webb Hodges from 1917-1923.

I understand that about a third of the collection has been repatriated, but that leaves hundreds of thousands of objects comprising one of the largest symbols of institutional cultural genocide in North America.

Kirk_Johnson13 karma

The modern Smithsonian works in close collaboration with Native American groups to repatriate human remains, funerary objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. This is an ongoing and active process.

ursavs3 karma

What's the best "Ross" joke you have heard coz of your profession?

Kirk_Johnson14 karma


diadectes2 karma

Why does the Smithsonian continue to hide evidence of giants?

Kirk_Johnson17 karma

We don't. This is a common myth.

FistMeWhileIPoop1 karma

What is your favorite dinosaur?

Kirk_Johnson13 karma


Immortan_J1 karma

Was TREX really the strongest dinosaur that ever existed or not?

Kirk_Johnson12 karma

PT. rex was probably the strongest carnivore but some of the herbivores were so huge that they must have been stronger.

Karlzzzon0 karma

Do you know Ross Geller?

Kirk_Johnson11 karma

I don't think so