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Dowsing for dinosaurs: Homemade device helps locate new spec
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Subject: Dowsing for dinosaurs: Homemade device helps locate new spec
Author: email@example.com at smtp-fhu
Date: 6/08/96 02:13
>From the CNN Website - http://www.cnn.com
Dowsing for dinosaurs
Homemade device helps locate new species
August 5, 1996 Web posted at: 7:15 p.m. EDT
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (AP) -- Paleontologists in Utah have been using a
homemade device to locate fossils buried in solid rock, including two
The device, a wedding of high-tech and low-tech, can pinpoint faint radiation
emanating from a dinosaur fossil through stone up to a meter thick.
The "radiological surveyor" is the brainchild of Ray Jones, a University of
Utah radiation analyst, handyman and amateur paleontologist.
His invention, similar in spirit to dowsing rods used to search for water,
has astounded professionals and is credited with finding prehistoric bones
where none were known to exist.
"His method works," said Dr. James Kirkland, paleontologist for the
Dinamation International Society and the Devil's Canyon Science and Learning
Center in Fruita, Colorado.
"As far as I know, (Jones) is the first guy to find a dinosaur this way," he
Working with paleontologist Don Burge of the College of Eastern Utah in
Price, the 58-year-old Jones located and helped unearth a pair of
never-before-seen dinosaurs from a dig southeast of Price.
The new Cretaceous-era dinosaur, a 125-million-year-old, plant-eating
nodosaur described by Burge as "looking like an armadillo, but bigger than a
cow," will be named after Jones.
The other Cretaceous dinosaur -- a monstrous, duck-billed hadrosaur -- will
be named after Jones' wife, Carol.
On July 24, Jones used his device to pinpoint a spot on a steep rock
outcropping at Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal, where subsequent
digging turned up what appears to be the missing skull of a new carnivore
similar to the fearsome allosaurus.
Excavators spent nearly three years unearthing the "amazingly intact"
skeleton of the 18-foot-long predator, which was missing its head.
"There was no strong evidence in the quarry face where we should dig," said
park paleontologist Dan Chure. "We had no idea whether (the skull) had washed
away 150 million years ago ... or whether it was 50 feet inside the rock
But Jones, relying on data culled from a survey of the wall last summer,
scanned the rock face with his device and then used a sharp tool to scratch
an outline where workers should dig.
The first chisel blow revealed bone, Chure said. While it will take several
weeks to remove the fossil from the surrounding rock, Chure is convinced the
skull belongs to the skeleton found nearby.
"This was a marvelous specimen even without the skull," Chure said. "Now,
with the skull, it's simply spectacular.
"And we wouldn't have the skull of this animal if Ray hadn't had his
machine," he said. "I'm willing to testify that it works."
Others, however, call for caution.
State paleontologist David Gillette, former curator of the New Mexico Museum
of Natural History, said he has tried similar techniques with poor results.
"There are too many variables that cannot be controlled," he said. "The whole
area needs a lot more work."
The device is based on a long-held understanding that bones, during the
fossilization process, absorb uranium from the surrounding soil.
But past efforts at using sensing devices such as Geiger counters to locate
fossils have been foiled, mainly because natural background radiation often
drowns out the tiny buzz of gamma rays emanating from petrified bone.
"What you'd end up with is a mass of radioactive noise," Burge said.
What Jones did was cobble together a device combining a supersensitive
gamma-radiation detector with heavy lead cladding to block out the background
radiation. The only access for radiation is through a dime-sized hole aimed
straight at the ground.
Readings from his device are plotted on a grid and then fed into a computer.
The resulting radiological survey map is then used by excavators.
Jones acknowledges the device has limitations. The most significant is that
uranium ore deposits -- common throughout major formations in the West
containing dinosaur fossils -- can produce false-positive readings. The
machine also has a 1-meter range.
But as Kirkland puts it, "Anything that helps us decide where to dig is a