Tuesday 28th June 2011by Jennifer 8. Lee
There is something completely awe-inspiring about dinosaurs, even when you are an adult. Unlike Santa Claus and R-rated movies, it is something from childhood that continues to be both mysterious and realâ€” even though everything you learned when you were young were wrong. For example, I specifically mean the extinct non-avian dinosaurs, since Â birds are technically dinosaurs as well (avian dinosaurs)
As part of Adventures of the Mind (like a TED for high school students) in Montana, We spent the day with Jack Horner, the paleontologist who was an inspiration for Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park.Â Here is his TED talk on how to build a dinosaur from a chicken. (One of the dinosaur models in the Museum of the Rockies actually had feathers down his back. He looked totally fabulous, like he should have been in the New York City gay pride parade.)
But again, everything we were told about dinoasuars as kids is wrong. Here is a roundup of some of what we were told yesterday, some factual and some still making its way into scientific acceptance. The brontosaurus doesn’t exist. Dinosaurs were warm blooded. Triceratops didn’t use their horns for fighting, and instead the trills and horns were perhaps the dino equivalent of plummage. The T Rex was probably a scavenger and not a predator. The sauropods (aka bronto-like creatures) likely had their necks held horizontally rather than this upright giraffe approach.
So below is a tenontosaurus which died in agony in a velicoraptor pack attack. You can tell from scattered teeth (too many for an individual, indicating a pack of raptors) and arched neck (an agony response that we still see in chickens today).
Of course, some dinosaurs were very much good parents. Below, a lambeosaurine egg clutch, which was discovered in 1993.
Did dinosaurs have part of their brains in their butts (or at least hip)? Suggestion from hip bones that perhaps some of their motor control was in the bottom half of their body. That idea of a “chicken running around with its head cut off” may actually be telling.
The evidence is the Tyrannosaurus Rex was scavenger not predator, said Jack Horner. This is not a very unpopular idea, given T Rex’s identity as the “king of the dinosaurs.” Below is a famed T Rex found in highly articulated state.
We made it downstairs to the collections. When you enter, you find a huge table full of random fossils just waiting to be cleaned. It’s kinda weird to see it all jumbled together.
And a small cadre of very diligent folks are cleaning the dinosaur bones. This woman has been working for months on a hadrosaur jawbone.
We got to go into the room full of cabinets with the cleaned specimens. One of the best drawers is full of tyrannosaurus teeth from B. Rex, at the Museum of the Rockies. Dinosaur teeth grow back, unlike humans. Those grooves are so the tooth underneath can fit in.
Then we spent the afternoon looking for fossils at a ranch near Livingston, Montana, which was near the marine line during the Jurassic era. Montana is a popular place for finding dinosaur fossils in large part because it has a lot of exposed land that dates back to the era when dinosaurs lived.
A lot of paleontology involves going around looking in the dirt where you think dinosaurs might be, and poking around. Here is the ranch.
They found a bunch of sauropods (a.k.a. brontosaurus like creatures) Â in the area. Below is a cast of a femur they found there. Huge. The guy holding is a grad student, Kerry, who admits he has a sauropod fetish, so much so that his gmail includes sauropod in it, though he is not sauropod@gmail, as someone else apparently claimed it first. He also wears a belt with an apatosaurus on it.
Random paleontologist tip. You can test if something is bone, fossil or otherwise, by putting it in your mouth to see see if it sticks to your tongue. Bone matter sticks, but rock etc. does not. There are a lot of dinosaur hunters who have eaten a lot of dirt.
Below is a very anticlimatic example of a fossil Kerry found. It kinda looks like rock. I know. And it would be painful to extract it.
My favorite theory of the day. That the reason European dragons and Chinese dragons may look different is that Europe had teradactyls (bird like with wings) fossils and Chinese had sauropod fossils (long).
By the way, the Wikipedia entry for brontosaurus akes you to apatosaurus, try it yourself:Â http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brontosaurus.Â The brontosaurus is a mix up of a apatosaurus body with the skull of another dinosaur (camarasaurus). I actually think that brontosaurus deserves its own entry explaining how the mixup happened, and show not simply be a redirect.
Re the myth of brontosaurus. This is completely disruptive for the Flintstones, where they serve brontoburgers. Can you imagine apatoburgers?