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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:  forteana@lists.primenet.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 
never-before-seen dinosaurs. 

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 
said. 

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 
wall." 

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 
plus."