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Re: "Sue", the K-T event, and an exploding planet.

At 12:42 PM 1/9/97 -0500, Steven Lazarus wrote (with an editorial from

>[ Everyone take a d-e-e-e-e-p breath before reading this message. *snip*
> -- MR ]

("One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand...")

>My questions are:
>1) What is the truth about the "Living tissue found in Sue's thigh bone"?
>Does anybody know? Did anyone have time to study it before the government
>seized it?

I believe people are conflating (great SAT word, by the way: use it whenever
possible) two differnt T. rex discoveries, made at about the same time.  The
closest thing to "living tissue" in a Tyrannosaurus femur would be the
various materials that Mary Schweitzer and colleagues have found in the
remarkably well preserved Museum of the Rockies specimen.  This specimen
seems to be almost completely unaltered, and there are evidence of
structures which could be decay products of red blood cells (although this
has not been confirmed).  These possible blood-related stuctures were, in
fact, recovered from the "thigh bone" (femur) of the specimen.  These
discoveries were reported around the time the "Sue" contraversy was heating
up again.

(To add to the confusion, the MOR specimen was announced as the largest and
most complete T. rex shortly before the discovery of "Sue", a larger and
alledgedly more complete T. rex!  The two specimens have been confused in
the public mind ever since).

The crew at the Black Hills Institute did some initial work on the specimen
prior to the seizure, but (as far as I know) it was good-old-fashioned
morphological analyses: no biochemical studies.

>2) Are most dinosaur skeletons found to be radioactive?

Depending on the formation involved, there are varying levels of
radioactivity in the bones of some fossils (dinosaurs, mammals, etc.).
These have to do with natural-occuring radioactive minerals in the ground
water, though, not external/extraterrestrial sources.  During fossilization,
some dissolved minerals in the ground water can become incorporated in the
bone (either in the pore spaces of the bone or by replacing the
hydroxylapatite grains in bone).  Some radioactive minerals preferentially
replace hydroxylapatie, for example.

Because of local geology and hydrology, some formations produce radioactive
fossils, while others do not.  I've not heard of the Hell Creek and Lance
Formations as radioactive bone producers, but the Morrison Formation (Upper
Jurassic western North America) and the Sivalik Group (Tertiary of Pakistan)
are famous for their radioactive dinosaurs and mammals, respectively.  In
fact, chunks of dinosaur bone were collected by prospectors at mid-century
to help fuel the early U.S. nuclear program.

As reported last year, work has begun to use the radioactive nature of
Morrison bones to paleontological advantage, as new sensors can be used to
locate concentrations of radioactive minerals (and, thus, bones) underneath
the surface.

To sum up: no "living tissue" reported in the femur of "Sue" (although
possible decay products found in the femur of a different specimen); the
government seized the specimen for reasons you can read on a number of
websites; no reports on radioactive fossils from the end of the age of
dinosaurs, but other formations from various other periods do produce
radioactive bones for hydrological and geological reasons.

See, no problem.  No conspiracy involved at all.  Fnord.

>I can only imagine what those on this list will think of the exploding
>planet causing the K-T extinction...

B5 spoiler: Vorlons probably did it. :-)

Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Vertebrate Paleontologist     Webpage: http://www.geol.umd.edu
Dept. of Geology              Email:th81@umail.umd.edu
University of Maryland        Phone:301-405-4084
College Park, MD  20742       Fax:  301-314-9661

"To trace that life in its manifold changes through past ages to the present
is a ... difficult task, but one from which modern science does not shrink.
In this wide field, every earnest effort will meet with some degree of
success; every year will add new and important facts; and every generation
will bring to light some law, in accordance with which ancient life has been
changed into life as we see it around us to-day."
        --O.C. Marsh, Vice Presidential Address, AAAS, August 30, 1877