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NYT: Theories Evolve in T. Rex Discoveries
Copyright of this story, 2000 New York Times, is
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Theories Evolve in T. Rex Discoveries
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
BOZEMAN, Mont. ? A graduate student raps with a hammer
and chisel at a dinosaur bone encased in yellow rock,
out of rhythm with the Carole King song playing here
in John R. Horner's paleontology laboratory at the
Museum of the Rockies.
Dr. Horner and his wife, Celeste, are back in his
crammed office off to the side of the laboratory,
after returning from the digs in Eastern Montana,
where research teams had spent a third summer studying
ecosystem evolution at the end of dinosaurs' reign and
where they have found five Tyrannosaurus rex
skeletons. They will return next summer to excavate
The bones were discovered in the broken, spare
landscape of Garfield County, once a seabed and later
covered by forests of sequoias, where T. rexes roamed
65 million to 67 million years ago.
Before the find, only 16 other T. rex skeletons had
been discovered since Barnum Brown of the American
Museum of Natural History in New York uncovered the
first one, also in Garfield County, in 1902.
Under an agreement with the federal government, Dr.
Horner and his Hell Creek Project research team have
been hunting fossils on the 1.1-million-acre Charles
M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.
The project has two more years to collect fossils and
other clues of evolution in the era of the
Tyrannosaurus rex, including climate variations across
three million years, which could be useful as a
comparison with recent climate changes. The findings
may also shed light on why dinosaurs disappeared 65
million years ago.
Dr. Horner, the author of five books on dinosaurs,
became known for his research showing how some
dinosaurs cared for their young. He was a consultant
for the "Jurassic Park" movies. His attention is now
focused on Tyrannosaurus rex, and he will be studying
the skeletons as they come out of the ground next
summer. The find includes several early specimens that
may be useful in trying to prove his theory that the
dinosaur was more scavenger than hunter.
If the arms of the early specimens are longer than
those of later ones, it will suggest that the
appendages were evolving away, he said. Many
predators, like cats, rely on their arms to hold prey,
but arms are less essential to scavengers, he argues.
Dr. Horner describes the Tyrannosaurus rexes feeding
like vultures and hyenas do in Africa today.
"All you have to do," he said, "is be big and ugly and
mean- looking and stinky to run stuff off."
Dr. Horner's finds are "obviously very significant,"
said Dr. Philip J. Currie, an expert on carnivorous
dinosaurs and a curator at one of the world's largest
dinosaur museums, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of
Paleontology in Drumheller, Alberta. "A T. rex is a
rare enough dinosaur that any new find is exciting and
One of the new specimens appears to be the biggest
ever, Dr. Horner said.
It is named Celeste after Dr. Horner's wife, who first
spotted its well-preserved pelvis jutting from a bank.
While the new specimens await excavation, Dr. Horner
said extrapolations of initial measurements suggest
that the Celeste skeleton is 10 percent bigger than
that of Sue, the nearly complete Tyrannosaurus rex
found in South Dakota in August 1990. Sue was sold in
1997 for nearly $8.4 million to the Field Museum of
Natural History in Chicago.
How much of Celeste remains is unknown, Dr. Horner
said. But, he said, the pelvis, nine articulated
vertebrae and a handful of ribs are exposed,
suggesting that at least 30 percent of the skeleton is
Celeste may be given to the Smithsonian Institution in
Washington, he said, though the future of the other
skeletons has not been decided. One may end up near
where it was found: at the tiny Garfield County
Museum, where a weathered sign outside the town of
Jordan says, "T. Rex Capital of the World."
The Museum of the Rockies will probably get another,
Dr. Horner said.
Although the dinosaurs are federal property, Dr.
Horner is the arbiter of their future, according to
his agreement with the United States Fish and Wildlife
Service and the federal Bureau of Land Management.
"Catapultam habeo. Nisi Pecuniam omnen mihi dabis ad capul tuum saxum immane
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