In the two centuries since the first dinosaur bones were identified in England, nearly 11,000 dinosaur fossils have been unearthed worldwide, two thirds of them in North America and Europe. Most of the finds have been made in the home countries of paleontologists; the ease of local fieldwork has led to a concentration of discoveries in well-traveled areas. Samantha Hopkins of the University of Oregon points out that more digs happen along her state’s paved roads than along dirt ones. Fossil encounters have been expanding geographically, however, notably in East Asia and southern South America. Widening the scope depends on building local expertise—a tricky task for a fairly niche (and not particularly lucrative) field. Investment could be fruitful: paleontologists have identified about 1,000 dinosaur species and estimate that at least that many more have yet to be found.
This article was originally published with the title “Where the Dinosaurs Are” in Scientific American 324, 2, 72 (February 2021)