|Museum Display of T Rex Unveiled |
By BENNIE M. CURRIE
CHICAGO (AP) MAY 17, 2000 The city identified with the Sears Tower and Michael Jordan has another big, imposing icon to share with the world. And make no bones about it, the latest spectacle is the baddest of them all.The reassembled skeleton of a 67 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex named Sue went on display Wednesday for the first time.
Awash in all the hoopla of a Hollywood premiere, hundreds of children and other visitors packed the main hall of the Field Museum of Natural History to witness the unveiling of the largest, most complete and best-preserved T. rex skeleton ever discovered.
"She's really big and she's really cool. What else can you say?'' said Sarah Bosley, a fifth-grader from Castle Rock, Colo.
The skeleton is named for Sue Hendrickson, the fossil hunter who found it in the badlands of South Dakota in 1990. Sue cost the museum $8.36 million at an auction.
The skeleton of the meat-eating predator is 13 feet tall at the hips and 41 feet long, with teeth as long as a human forearm. A lightweight cast replaces the one-ton skull on the skeleton because the real one is too heavy. It's shown in a nearby case.
The museum will display Sue in the main hall for the next three years and plans to move her to a new facility within the museum.
Scientists speculate the dinosaur was a female, based on its bone structure and size.
Meet The Duckosaurus
THE true successor to the terrifying tyrannosaurus rex has been revealed ... as a giant DUCK.
But it would have been more at home in Jurassic Peck than a pond.
And it was nothing like today's lovable children's favourites Daffy, Orville and Donald.
For this was a fowl-tempered 15ft-high beast with a taste for BLOOD who could rip apart its prey in seconds using its 2ft-long serrated bill.
The half-ton flightless monster waddled the earth 15 million years ago, making it the biggest land carnivore since the dinosaurs.
Its legs were like tree trunks and it could kill with one nod from a head the size of a horse's. It has been dubbed the Demon Duck in Australia, where fossils were found. Steve Wroe, of the University of Sydney, said: "Its bill could scissor out chunks of meat.
"It could hook into your thigh and rip out a nice slab of meat quite easily."
On the other hand, if WE managed to cut one up, its sturdy frame would provide enough meat for 1,500 portions of Peking duck.
Biologist Dr Ken Flint, of the University of Wessex, joked: "It would have had a wishbone - though you'd have needed to be Superman to pull it."
And Dr Angela Milner, of the Natural History Museum, said: "You'd have enough feathers to fill several duvets."
The giant duck - Bullockornis planei - was related to the flightless "thunderbirds" which roamed Australia until 50,000 years ago, according to New Scientist magazine. Experts assumed they were from the same family as emus and ostriches, but recent tests identified them as relatives of the duck.
To the untrained eye though it still looks more like dinosaur - especially a pteroDUCKtyl.
|Sue Provides Insights Into T Rex |
By JOSEPH B. VERRENGIA
MAY 17, 2000 - In "Jurassic Park,'' the terrified kids held perfectly still so a hungry celluloid Tyrannosaurus rex couldn't detect them.
In reality, scientists say, they would've been lunch meat.
CT-scanning of the desk-sized skull of Sue, the most complete T. rex fossil ever found, suggests the supreme carnivore in North America 65 million years ago had acute senses.
Its forward-pointing eyes provided a wide field of view, and ear structures suggest it could hear well.
But Sue's key advantage was smell. Its olfactory bulbs were grapefruit-sized. The skull opening for the bundle of olfactory nerves leading to the brain is wider than the spinal cord.
"The olfactory bulbs are larger than the cerebrum,'' said paleontologist Chris Brochu of the Field Museum of Natural History, the only scientist to have extensively examined the Sue fossil.
The dinosaur "smelled its way through life,'' he said.
Sue's skeleton will be unveiled at the Field Museum on May 17 after nearly three years of cleaning and assembly. For now, it is off-limits to outsiders. Brochu has yet to reveal many details.
At a recent paleontology meeting, he said it was unlikely that the bones, however complete, would settle key debates about the superstar of dinosaurs.
Among them: T. rex's color and vocalizations, whether it was warm-blooded, hunter or scavenger, male or female.
Others are more hopeful.
Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. of the University of Maryland examined Sue briefly before it was auctioned in 1997, but key parts were still jacketed in protective plaster.
"The complete tail of a T. rex has not yet been described,'' he said. "I would like to see if the furcula, or wishbone, is present.''
Peter Larson, president of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, S.D., directed the fossil's excavation in 1990. He spent two years examining the bones until they were seized by federal agents in a legal dispute.
He believes the Sue fossil is an older female. Among predatory birds, fish and insects, females are larger than males, he notes. Sue has a wider pelvis that would accommodate egg-laying. And, similar to crocodile anatomy, she lacks an extra bone that male crocs and smaller, presumably male T. rex skeletons both have.
Reading behavior based on bones is trickier.
Sue's teeth are foot-long cylinders with serrated edges. Her stomach contents included acid-etched bones of a duckbilled dinosaur. Other T. rex remains include bones from triceratops and other plentiful herbivores. A T. rex gulped everything and relied on a powerful digestive tract to process bone and horn.
In the movies, T. rex is a solitary killer. But many scientists believe the real-life carnivores hunted in packs.
Evidence? The Sue excavation also yielded juvenile and infant T. rexes in the same location.
Long before dying, Sue suffered a broken left leg that was slow to heal. "She couldn't have hunted on it,'' Larson said. "I think her mate helped her.''
How did Sue die? T. rexes fought each other, probably over territory, food and mates.
Embedded in Sue's ribcage is the tooth of another T. rex. The left side of the skull is smashed, with holes along her jaw.
Brochu doubts it is evidence of a fatal encounter. The holes don't line up with the bite of a T. rex, he said.
Larson disagrees. "In her last fight she didn't do so well,'' he said.
T. rex might have ruled North America in the late Cretaceous Period. But on the roster of the biggest and baddest dinosaurs, some formidable predators are emerging around the world.
In March, scientists announced the discovery in Argentina of a yet-to-be-named meat eater that lived 100 million years ago. At 45 feet, it was 10 percent longer than T. rex. It had a long, narrow skull with scissor-like jaws, whereas the T. rex had nutcracker jaws.
"It probably attacked and dismembered its prey with a surgical precision,'' said Phil Currie of the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada. "T. rex was a creature of brute force.''
In 1998, researchers in central Africa found Suchomimus tenerensis. It was as large as a T. rex, but it prowled 30 million years earlier. Its pointy crocodile-like jaw sported 100 teeth. It also had 16-inch sickle claws.
In Argentina, Gigantosaurus was discovered in 1995. It weighed 50 percent more than T. rex and was a contemporary of Suchomimus about when Africa and South America were connected. It had thin, flat teeth like daggers.
|T Rex Named for Maverick Explorer|
|By JOSEPH B. VERRENGIA |
AP Science Writer
GUANAJA, Honduras (AP) MAY 17,2000 She grins hideously, baring fangs as long as railroad spikes 60 teeth made for pulverizing tons of muscle, guts and bone.
She is the largest and most complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex ever found.
And her name is Sue.
It's a dainty name for the lizard king, after 67 million years still the most fearsome predator to tread the Earth. Cleaned, CT-scanned and reconnected, she was unveiled May 17 at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Already the museum is hawking T-shirts and refrigerator magnets bearing her menacing profile and that name.
Because she is named after Sue Hendrickson, the woman who found her and helped pry her bones from the Badlands of South Dakota.
Hendrickson is no university professor, no museum curator. She isn't even a scientist.
She is a high school dropout, a self-taught maverick, a real-life Indiana Jones who has unearthed scientific and archaeological treasures all over the world. The greatest T. rex skeleton of all might not even be her greatest find. In fact, dinosaurs rank low on her list of scientific passions.
In the Dominican Republic, she found a trio of exquisite butterflies, extinct for 24 million years, trapped for eternity in jewel-like amber.
In the Peruvian desert, she unearthed a graveyard of whales stranded hundreds of miles from the ocean for 12 million years.
In Egypt, she raised treasures from Cleopatra's palace and Napoleon's warships, both submerged in Alexandria's murky harbor.
Off the Philippines, she recovered a trove of Ming Dynasty Chinese porcelain from a sunken Spanish galleon.
Now 50 years old and weathered by a lifetime of adventure, Hendrickson might be the most accomplished explorer you've never heard of. And she wishes it would stay that way.
"Never find anything good,'' she warns. "Everyone will want it.''
At the crest of acclaim in her field, she has retreated to her sprawling house on Guanaja, a tiny roadless island 40 miles off the coast of Honduras. In 1502 Christopher Columbus, an explorer with a deeper appreciation for celebrity, landed on a palm-fringed beach a few miles from her dock.
This is her first permanent address in the 33 years since she ran away from her Munster, Indiana home at the age of 17. On a bluff overlooking the Caribbean, where the sunset blossoms like an orchid and fades even faster, Hendrickson is trying to reclaim what she has lost in ten years of jubilation and disillusionment since she found the T. rex.
Tops on her list: Solitude.
"I'm a frustrated hermit,'' she says, hurling a tennis ball off the verandah so her eight dogs will give chase.
Robert Bakker, curator of the Tate Geological Museum in Casper, Wyo. and author of the best seller, "The Dinosaur Heresies,'' says Hendrickson is a lot more than that. He describes her as a woman driven to find provocative specimens that smash our illusions and replace them with new truths.
"She can find nearly anything,'' Bakker says. "To find something that adds a brick to the edifice of knowledge is eternal. It's a way of becoming immortal.''
And remarkably, he points out, she is self-taught.
Hendrickson rolls her blue eyes in disbelief that anyone would care about her academic credentials. Or lack thereof.
"People make such a big deal about the dropout thing,'' she says. "I've got a good, logical mind, and I teach myself.''
How does a dropout become a major figure in the corridors of science?
Growing up outside of Chicago, she was an A student until rebellion struck, and she ran away with a boyfriend to live on the water.
They sewed sails in Seattle, then skipped to a marina near San Francisco. "I didn't wear shoes for two years,'' she recalls wistfully. When they broke up, she moved to the Florida Keys to dive for lobsters and then for salvage sunken yachts, crashed airplanes, lost cargo.
For years, she lived like a mermaid, rarely wearing more than a bikini, netting tropical fish for collectors. What fish she didn't recognize she would drive 90 miles to an oceanography lab in Miami. Many turned out to be new species.
Hendrickson toyed with becoming a marine biologist. Just in case, her mother, now 86, kept saving for tuition until Hendrickson's 30th birthday.
But why study for years to do what she was already good at? Why spend nights hunched over a microscope when you could sleep under the stars?
So she cast her net farther.
In the Dominican Republic, she hiked into the mountains, where miners showed her chunks of amber. The petrified tree sap was crammed with ancient insects in suspended animation. It was like holding another planet in her palm.
A career was born. Soon she was selling fish, amber, fossils, artifacts and salvage whatever she could find. Before each expedition, she would visit scholars and review research to learn what to look for.
For years, she has offered important specimens to the Smithsonian Institution and other top museums at bargain rates, or sometimes donated them. She peddles the rest.
A dazzling ammonite from Morocco might bring hundreds. A fossil turtle might go for $35,000. Rare dinosaurs fetch even more.
For this, Hendrickson courts the scorn of some academics.
Paleontologists are outraged by fossil speculating. Thieves, they say, can ruin years of careful excavation in overnight raids. Many specimens are poached from public lands. The lure of profits turns scientific specimens into coveted trophies.
"It's extremely lucrative,'' said Vincent Santucci, paleontologist for the National Park Service. "Poachers are out there in greater numbers now. They will take fossils regardless of the risk.''
Hendrickson condemns the bandits. However, she points out, paleontology has relied on amateurs for nearly two centuries. The first fossil to be identified as a dinosaur was an iguanodon tooth found by an English physician's wife in 1822.
After the Civil War, rival paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh conducted a dinosaur version of the gold rush across the American West, employing amateurs who used picks, shovels and even dynamite. Today, the 136 species they unearthed remain mainstays of museum displays.
The relationship between scientists and amateurs soured only recently as prices soared and research funding dwindled.
"The academics are snobs,'' Hendrickson declares. "I spend all my time in the field. They might dig something every few years when they get funding. They resent it when somebody finds another way to do it.
"Believe me, nobody gets rich selling fossils,'' she says. "But museums always have bought fossils. Always.''
But only the Field Museum has paid $8.3 million for a single skeleton.
The specimen's unveiling will be the epilogue to paleontology's best melodrama since Cope and Marsh.
It began in the summer of 1990. Hendrickson was living like a prairie dog in a dusty campsite near Faith, S.D. No shower. No toilet. Midday temperatures topped 110 degrees. There, she and then boyfriend Peter Larson, president of a private group that collects fossils, were excavating a triceratops.
It was a substantial find that might interest several museums. But the creature's huge bony frill was crushed. On their knees under the blazing sun, they collected bone chips in baggies.
To relieve the scorching monotony, they would survey distant outcrops on adjacent ranches. One exposure, rock laid down during the Cretaceous Period, tugged at Hendrickson. "I felt drawn to that formation for two weeks.'' she says. "I can't explain it.''
Larson can. "She was created to find things,'' he says. "She has an excellent eye for subtle differences in color and texture. She has an innate ability to know that something is important. And she doesn't give up.''
One August morning, Hendrickson and her golden retriever, Gypsy, made their way to the formation and began exploring. A trio of plate-sized vertebrae poked from a sandstone ledge. Fragments that trickled down around her boots had a honeycombed texture, like a bird's bones.
Hendrickson did the arithmetic of paleontology. Cretaceous plus honeycombed equals large meat eater. Excavations revealed it was the biggest and best T. rex ever found. It was Sue, the Hope Diamond of fossils.
But like the Hope Diamond, Sue carries a curse.
Larson paid rancher Maurice Williams $5,000 to excavate Sue from what he claimed to be his land. But Williams cried foul when he learned the fossil could be worth far more.
So did the Sioux Indian tribe and the federal government. Both claimed ownership because the bluff is on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.
Federal agents seized the bones as if they were crates of cocaine. They carted away Larson's files on past digs, too, and began prying into his past, eventually spending $7 million on the investigation.
In the end, the government found no crime in Sue's discovery and excavation. But they did prosecute Larson for currency violations involving overseas fossil sales, and he was sentenced to two years in prison.
The case polarized paleontology. Years later, hard feelings persist.
Santucci and other scientists employed on public lands say Larson's prosecution was a stern rebuke to freelancers and reinforced the necessity of obtaining clear permission to collect bones.
Bakker condemns the case as a "scientific jihad'' against amateurs. "Nature is the greatest vandal,'' he says. "There are specimens literally rotting in the ground as we speak. We need the amateurs to collect them.''
As for Sue, a court declared the rancher, Williams, to be her rightful owner. The fossil was put up for auction in 1997 at the same posh Manhattan auction house that set record prices for Van Gogh paintings and Jackie O's baubles. After a 10-minute bidding frenzy, the Field Museum bought it for $8.3 million.
The shock of the trial and the auction publicity drove Hendrickson overseas, and back underwater.
Off the Philippines, she helped French archaeologist Franck Goddio find the San Diego, a Spanish galleon sunk in 1600. Hendrickson calls it the "Sue of Shipwrecks.'' They found the skeletal remains of 100 crewmen and 28,000 artifacts.
"Every day we came up with something amazing,'' she says.
More recently, Hendrickson and Goddio have been surveying Cuba's coastline with sonar for more wrecks the first study of its kind permitted by the secretive Castro regime.
Hendrickson has paid for her wanderlust. She was married once, but now is single. Her features are wrinkled, bleached and freckled by the sun. Her left leg swells grotesquely from a lymph infection contracted in Alexandria's filthy waters. She also has had surgery for cervical cancer.
These days, she is trying to live like the rest of us under a roof. Of course, her address is Guanaja, not Munster. Her hobbies include bottle-feeding a rescued baby deer and racing a speedboat at night over coral reefs.
When Hurricane Mitch interrupted her newfound domesticity in 1998, blowing two nearby villages out to sea, she pitched in to help her neighbors. "In the first two weeks after the hurricane I watched Susan pass out $20,000 of her own money,'' said Bill Smith, a pastor from Bozeman, Montana who is raising money for the rebuilding.
Hendrickson can't sit still anyplace for long. When she starts complaining of "itchy feet'' it means it's time to go exploring.
"I just want to feel that discovery moment again,'' she says.
So will it be shipwrecks or dinosaurs? Amber or ammonites?
Gazing over the shimmering Caribbean, Hendrickson's blue eyes bulge at news that scientists in Siberia have thawed the woolly carcass of an Ice Age mammoth.
"I've always wanted to find a mammoth,'' she says softly.
It won't be long before she finds something, somewhere. The only question is whether she'll take her own advice:
This time, don't find anything good.
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