Edwin H. Colbert

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Edwin Harris Colbert
Edwin H. Colbert.jpg
Colbert in the 1960s
Born(1905-09-28)September 28, 1905
Died15 November 2001(2001-11-15) (aged 96)
Alma materUniversity of Nebraska
Columbia University (Ph.D., 1935)
Known forCoelophysis
Effigia okeeffeae
AwardsDaniel Giraud Elliot Medal (1935)
Romer-Simpson Medal (1989)
Hayden Memorial Geological Award (1997)
Scientific career
Evolutionary Biology
InstitutionsAmerican Museum of Natural History
Columbia University
Museum of Northern Arizona

Edwin Harris "Ned" Colbert[1] (September 28, 1905 – November 15, 2001)[2] was a distinguished American vertebrate paleontologist and prolific researcher and author.

Born in Clarinda, Iowa, he grew up in Maryville, Missouri and graduated from Maryville High School.[3][2] His father was George H. Colbert who was head of the mathematics department at Northwest Missouri State University and had been at the college since its founding in 1906.[4]

He received his A.B. from the University of Nebraska, then his Masters and Ph.D. from Columbia University, finishing in 1935. He married Margaret Matthew, daughter of the eminent paleontologist William Diller Matthew, in 1933.[5] She became a noted artist, illustrator, and sculptor who specialized in visualizing extinct species. The couple had five sons together.[2] The young family moved to Leonia, New Jersey, in 1937 and lived there for decades.[6]

Among the positions Colbert held was Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History for 40 years, and Professor Emeritus of Vertebrate Paleontology at Columbia University. He was a protégé of Henry Fairfield Osborn, and a foremost authority on the Dinosauria.

For his work, Siwalik Mammals in the American Museum of Natural History, Colbert was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences in 1935.[7] He described dozens of new taxa and authored major systematic reviews, including the discovery of more than a dozen complete skeletons of a primitive small Triassic dinosaur, Coelophysis at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, in 1947 (one of the largest concentrations of dinosaur deposits ever recorded),[2] publication of their description, and a review of ceratopsian phylogeny.

In 1959, he headed an expedition to the Geopark of Paleorrota (Brazil), within Llewellyn Ivor Price.[8]

His fieldwork in Antarctica in 1969 helped solidify the acceptance of continental drift, by finding a 220-million-year-old fossil of a Lystrosaurus. His popularity and his textbooks on dinosaurs, paleontology, and stratigraphy (with Marshall Kay) introduced a new generation of scientists and amateur enthusiasts to the subject. He was the recipient of numerous prizes and awards commemorating his many achievements in the field of science.

He became a curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, Arizona in 1970. He died at his home in Flagstaff in 2001.[2]


Colbert wrote more than 20 books and over 400 scientific articles.[2]

  • 1935: Siwalik Mammals in the American Museum of Natural History
  • 1945: The Dinosaur Book: The Ruling Reptiles and Their Relatives (repub 1951)
  • 1955: Colbert's Evolution of the Vertebrates: A History of the Backboned Animals Through Time (four more editions in 1969, 1980, 1991 & 2001; fifth edition with Eli C. Minkoff & Michael Morales)
  • 1961: The World of Dinosaurs, illustrated by George Geygan (repub in 1977 as Dinosaur World)
  • 1961: Dinosaurs: Their Discovery and Their World
  • 1965: The Age of Reptiles, illustrated by Margaret Colbert (repub 1987)
  • 1968: Men and Dinosaurs: The Search in Field and Laboratory (repub 1971)
  • 1968: Millions of Years Ago: Prehistoric Life in North America, illustrated by Margaret Colbert
  • 1973: Wandering Lands and Animals: The Story of Continental Drift and Animal Populations (repub 1985)
  • 1977: The Year of the Dinosaur, illustrated by Margaret Colbert
  • 1983: Dinosaurs: An Illustrated History. ISBN 978-0-8437-3332-7
  • 1984: The Great Dinosaur Hunters and Their Discoveries. ISBN 978-0-486-24701-4
  • 1989: Digging into the Past: An Autobiography. ISBN 978-0-942637-08-3
  • 1995: The Little Dinosaurs of Ghost Ranch. ISBN 978-0-231-08236-5
  • 1980: Fossil-Hunter's Notebook: My Life with Dinosaurs and Other Friends, w/Elias Colbert. ISBN 978-0-525-10772-9


  1. ^ Elliot, Charming the Bones, p. 53.
  2. ^ a b c d e f O'Connor, Anahad, "E. H. Colbert, 96, Dies; Wrote Dinosaur Books", The New York Times, November 25, 2001.
  3. ^ "25 Jan 1933, Page 2 - The Maryville Daily Forum at". Newspapers.com. 1933-01-25. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  4. ^ "26 Apr 1950, Page 7 - The Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune at". Newspapers.com. 1950-04-26. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  5. ^ Elliot, Charming the Bones, p. 61.
  6. ^ Elliot, Charming the Bones, pp. 68–71.
  7. ^ "Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 29 December 2010. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  8. ^ Antônio Isaia, Os Fascinantes Caminhos da Paleontologia. Editora Pallotti (Portuguese)
  • Ann Brimacombe Elliot, Charming the Bones: A Portrait of Margaret Matthew Colbert. Kent State University Press, 2000. ISBN 0873386485.
  • Romeu Beltrão, Cronologia Histórica de Santa Maria e do extinto município de São Martinho. 1787–1933. Vol I. Pallotti, 1958. (Portuguese)

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