Thomas H. Rich

Senior Curator (Vertebrate Palaeontology & Palaeobotany)

Dr Thomas Rich investigates the polar vertebrates, primarily but not exclusively dinosaurs and mammals, that lived in Victoria during the latter part of the Early Cretaceous between 115 and 106 million years ago.

Thomas H. Rich
Thomas H. Rich
Source: Museum Victoria


Dr Rich trained as a vertebrate palaeontologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and Columbia University, New York. As a student of Prof. Ruben Arthur Stirton at the former, he became aware of the potential in Australia to make fundamental discoveries on this continent about mammalian evolution. When an opportunity to gain his present position at Museum Victoria arose, he immigrated to this continent to pursue that area of interest. Twenty-three years after starting a research program with the goal of acquiring Australian Mesozoic mammals, he finally obtained his first specimen. Subsequently, another 48 have been found.

The National Geographic Society recognised Dr Rich’s professional contributions along with those of his wife, Prof. Patricia Vickers-Rich, when they were awarded the Committee for Research and Exploration Chairman’s Award for 2000, which reads in part as follows:

In their investigations of vertebrate paleontology in Australia, Dr. Thomas Rich and Dr. Patricia Vickers-Rich have accumulated an extraordinary record of life from the Age of Dinosaurs in Australia ranging from dinosaurs to mammals. This has completely revised our understanding of Mesozoic life at high latitudes. In recognition of their tireless and virtually superhuman efforts to gather and interpret fossils of great significance, this award is given.

Current activities

Organising the collection and preparation of fossil dinosaurs and mammals from Victoria and carrying out study of them

Long-term fossil excavations are currently underway on the Victorian coast at two sites, one near the town of Inverloch and the other near Cape Otway. Study of the fossils collected has shown not only that there are a variety of different species belonging to these two groups but also provided information about how they lived in a polar habitat and their relationships with similar animals on other continents. The mammals have been found to have features that contradict long-held expectations of what those of that age in Australia would be like.

Having been to the area of China where feathered dinosaurs are known to occur, Tom recognised that similar accumulations of the common fossils associated with the Chinese feathered dinosaurs occur in a lake deposit in southwest Gippsland near the hamlet of Koonwarra. Tom is initiating a systematic search of the southwest Gippsland area to find additional occurrences there because the one near Koonwarra would be difficult to excavate on the scale needed to adequately test whether fossils like the feathered dinosaurs of China occur in such lake deposits.

Acquisition of material for exhibition in Melbourne Museum

To augment the fossil displays at Melbourne Museum, specimens–both actual and casts–have been acquired primarily from overseas sources.

Production of information about the vertebrates of Victoria that lived during the time of the dinosaurs

Popular books, magazine articles, presentation of public lectures, and participation in the production of documentaries for television are four of the ways that information about the once-living vertebrates of Victoria are conveyed to the general public. In a similar vein, technical articles about the same topic are published in scientific journals for specialist colleagues.

On 24 September 2013, Australia Post will release six stamps that depict fossil vertebrates from Australia that lived during the Age of Dinosaurs. Five of these will be dinosaurs, one an amphibian about three metres long that resembled a crocodile, and finally an echidna. Tom is working with the artist James Gurney best known for his profusely illustrated fantasy Dinotopia books to come up with a scene that portrays these animals in their polar habitat.

Last updated 8 November 2012