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2009-09-22 – Pleurocoelus o Paluxysaurus jonesi ?

Updated dinosaur exhibit set for science museum



About 112 million years ago, in the early Cretaceous, Fort Worth and the land stretching out to the West was home to dinosaurs. Pleurocoelus, a huge four-legged herbivore with a long neck and tail, was about 50 feet long and could weigh 10 tons and more.

Pleurocoelus was well known in Texas for its washtub-sized footprints, visible around Glen Rose, Texas. In 1997, the 75th Texas Legislature named the dinosaur the state dinosaur.

There’s just one problem.

More research and new fossils being discovered by scientists, including professionals from the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, have discovered that the bones thought to belong to Pleurocoelus really belong to another species of dinosaur, Paluxysaurus jonesi.

The newly-discovered bones and the updated knowledge about Texas’ dinosaurs will be an integral part of the new museum building, slated to open in fall 2009. The new museum will cost $75 million, including a new planetarium and an operating budget, but about $1.5 million is budgeted specifically for a new dinosaur exhibit.

The new exhibition, which has the working title of “Mysteries of the Texas Dinosaurs,” will bring back parts of the previous exhibit, named “Lone Star Dinosaurs,” as well as more hands-on components.

The $1.5 million to be spent on dinosaur-centered exhibits is a reinvestment of a $1.2 million grant that the museum received in 1999 from the National Science Foundation, said Charlie Walter, chief operating officer. That grant, awarded through a competitive process, allowed the museum to build an exhibit that placed visitors in the role of scientists, finding fossils and then using clues to prompt questions and learn more about where the animals came from and the life they led.

“It wasn’t dinosaurs just for the sake of dinosaurs, it was using dinosaurs for the sake of the scientific process,” Walter said.

The new exhibit and its fossils will be the result of a collaboration between local and national organizations. The Robert Reid Studio, based just outside Fort Worth, previously helped in the articulation of a dinosaur for the museum and is contributing again to the articulation of the Paluxysaurus. Design Island, from Orlando, also is helping with the exhibit, which will be the only exhibit in the world to show an articulated Paluxysaurus skeleton, Walter said.

The Paluxysaurus bones were found, as the name might imply, near the Paluxy River in Hood County. The last part of the species’ name refers to the Jones Ranch, where the bones were found. The recent find has researchers excited, and they are thinking of revisiting the topic of Texas’ state dinosaur to update the information with the new knowledge, said Aaron Pan, curator of science for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Researchers from the museum and Southern Methodist University worked for several weeks a year over eight years to unearth the new dinosaur skeleton fragments, said Walters.

“In Jurassic Park, when you see them brushing off a whole animal — that’s Hollywood,” Pan said.

Instead, parts of a skeleton are found, jacketed with plaster to protect them, then large portions of the surrounding rock are broken out of the ground with the bones inside. Labor-intensive work in labs results in the bones being either set free or exposed for exhibition.

Walter said working with a local studio and SMU made sense economically.

“You can imagine what it might take to ship several thousand pounds of dinosaur bones back and forth across the country,” he said.

After the bones are ready for articulation they are sent to Reid Studios, said owner Robert Reid. There he puts them together in a giant framework to support both the real bones, which make up a portion of the displayed skeleton, and the fiberglass or cast bones, which fill in where real bones are missing, he said.

“We’re supplying the engineering and, you might say, the artistry,” Reid said.

Paluxysaurus now is believed to be the animal that left the giant washtub-sized footprints in Glen Rose, and so the famous tracks will be paid tribute in the new exhibition.

“We’re going to mount that animal in a track way that mimics the Glen Rose tracks,” Reid said.

Recognizing the dinosaur remains throughout Texas at the museum is important, Walter said, because the museum is one of the few places in the world to have easy access to such rare fossils. In fact, Pan said, between dinosaurs and marine fossils, Fort Worth is a fantastic place both to find and see fossils, and the general public frequently alerts the museum staff to fossil finds. After a museum determines whether a find is actually a fossil and not just a curious rock, staff can recover it from the ground and store it until it can be further researched, he said.

“There are so many fossils that some of them are still jacketed,” Pan said.

The new exhibit will reflect the most recent knowledge about local dinosaurs, and perhaps in the future more will be invested to re-imagine the ancient Texas landscape.

“It’s sort of the emerging story of science — the more things change, the more you learn,” Walter said.



settembre 22, 2008 - Posted by | - R. Dinosauri, - Sauropodi, America Northern, Mostre & Fiere, Paleontology / Paleontologia | , , , , , , ,

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