Dr. Sean Modesto – Breathing new life into 300-Million-Year-old fossils

Dr. Sean Modesto conducting research in the field in South Africa, standing next to a burrow cast.

Dr. Sean Modesto conducting research in the field in South Africa, standing next to a burrow cast.

Dr. Sean Modesto is a vertebrate paleontologist in Cape Breton University’s School of Science and Technology. His research focuses on the anatomy and the evolution of early amniotes, terrestrial vertebrates that include early reptiles and their extinct kin and ancient relatives of mammals called protomammals.

 “Although some early species are well known, most early amniotes are poorly known,” says Dr. Modesto. “So any new information will help toward a greater understanding of the anatomy of a given species, which in turn is useful for understanding the evolution of the group to which that species belongs.”

 Dr. Modesto’s research allows him to travel back in time figuratively and literally touch the past in a way that lays the groundwork for future knowledge. Field work last summer involved inspection of coastal outcrops on Prince Edward Island, which preserve amniotes that are about 305 to 275 million years old.

 “I came to CBU for the opportunity to head my own research lab, but also to supervise students who are interested in life of the past,” says. Dr. Modesto. “I started off as an undergraduate student working on a sail-backed protomammal that was a little over 300 million years in age. I’ve worked on these animals off and on for the better part of the past three decades.”

 Passionate about his work, Dr. Modesto explains, “Paleontology, like astronomy, is a field of science to which non-specialists can make important contributions. A 305-million-year-old reptile that colleagues and I described last year was actually found by two boys out looking for dinosaurs on the western shores of PEI.”

 Dr. Modesto currently has 2 research students working on this project with him, and says, “This project would not be possible without my dedicated and enthusiastic students.”