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Chicago Tribune article about Jane the juvenile T. rex exhibit at the Burpee Museum
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Meet Jane, the kid sister
Juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex at Rockford museum is a prize catch like Sue -- but
By Richard Wronski
Tribune staff reporter
Published June 28, 2005
ROCKFORD -- Officials with Rockford's Burpee Museum of National History knew
they'd hit the geological jackpot four years ago when a
group of museum-sponsored amateurs stumbled on the toe of a 66-million-year-old
dinosaur while digging in the Montana badlands.
But only now has it become clear how important that serendipitous find was:
Experts believe the dinosaur they call Jane is a
Tyrannosaurus rex that died at age 11--an exceedingly rare specimen and the
most complete skeleton of its kind ever found.
Formal announcement of Jane's pedigree will come Wednesday as Burpee officials
and a group of noted paleontologists tout the find by
opening a $1.3 million interactive exhibit hall housing Jane's mounted
skeleton. They hope Jane will do for the little museum with
the funny name what the famous T. rex named Sue has done for the Field Museum
in Chicago--bring acclaim and crowds.
Since scientists began cleaning and sorting Jane's bones, they have debated
what kind of dinosaur Jane was. Some paleontologists
believed Jane was a "pygmy" relative of T. rex, called Nanotyrannus lancensis.
But after long analysis, Michael Henderson, Burpee's curator of earth sciences,
concluded that Jane was a juvenile T. rex. His
analysis was based on comparing Jane against more than a hundred T. rex
The conclusion was that a juvenile T. rex and an adult of the species--such as
the Field's Sue--are radically different, Henderson
said. "We had to look at every one of Jane's 145 bones to determine what it
was," Henderson said.
Bolstering this is the fact that Jane was only 11 when it died, a year or two
before a tremendous growth spurt would have
transformed it into an adult. Paleontologists determined this by analyzing the
rings in a cross section of one of its bones, not
unlike the rings of a tree trunk.
Paleontologists say Jane is important because of the fossilized skeleton's
rarity, completeness and quality of preservation. Further
study of its bones will reveal important aspects of the changes that occurred
as Jane grew from a hatchling.
In life, Jane weighed nearly 1,500 pounds, was 21 feet long and stood about 7
1/2 feet tall at the hips.
"She was lithe and graceful and obviously a very speedy predator," Henderson
A full-grown T. rex weighed 11,000 pounds, was about 40 feet long and stood
about 12 feet tall.
About 50 percent of Jane's skeleton was recovered.
"It's a rare sight to see this much of a Tyrannosaurus rex's real bones," said
Lew Crampton, the president of Burpee Museum.
Henderson's results will be published and peer-reviewed. His findings have
earned the endorsement of many prominent paleontologists,
including John Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in
"Jane is the very best example of a juvenile T. rex skeleton on the planet,"
Horner said. "It promises to reveal very important
aspects concerning the growth dynamics and evolution of tyrannosaurs.
"The cool thing about T. rex is that its features change, from youth to adult,"
Horner said by telephone from an excavation site
called Egg Mountain in western Montana.
Horner said T. rexes have more teeth when they're young: Jane has 17; an adult
might have only 10 or 12. In addition, the dinosaurs'
teeth change as they age, from being curved and finely serrated to help them
tear flesh to being bolt-thick, better for grinding
"We know far less about the proportions, strength and speed of younger tyrant
dinosaurs than we do about the big adults," said
Thomas Holtz, director of the Earth, Life and Time Program at the University of
Maryland. "Jane will help us understand this
important part of the tyrannosaur life cycle."
Famed dinosaur hunter Peter Larson of the Black Hills Institute of Geological
Research will be among a group of eight experts who
will attend Wednesday's opening. Larson led the expedition that found Sue.
Visitors to the exhibit will be able to compare Jane to the replica of an adult
T. rex nearby.
Jane was a predator, built for speed. As it is mounted in the exhibit, Jane is
running on its long hind legs and is about to pounce
on a smaller dinosaur.
It lived during the late Cretaceous Period 66 million years ago in what was
then a lush, warm floodplain. That land mass is now the
arid badlands of southeastern Montana.
A day in Jane's life
At the Burpee Museum, named for an early Rockford undertaker, elaborate
computer-animated exhibits will guide visitors through the
life and demise of Jane, said Barbara Ceiga, Burpee's exhibit developer who
formerly worked at the Field Museum.
The exhibit "shows a day in the life of Jane," Ceiga said. "People want to see
what Jane was like when she was alive."
A 14-person crew of Burpee staff members and volunteers led by Henderson, the
curator of earth sciences, in 2001 discovered Jane's
bones sticking out of the side of a hill in the aptly named Hell Creek
formation. Jane wasn't excavated until the next spring,
however, when another crew returned to dig for three weeks amid the heat, dust,
black flies and rattlesnakes.
The campsite at Hell Creek where the crew lived during Jane's excavation has
been re-created at the Burpee, down to the coolers and
tools donated by the participants.
Despite the dinosaur's name, no one knows whether Jane was a female because
fossilization destroys visible signs of gender.
The dinosaur was named in honor of Jane Solem, a benefactor of the Burpee. The
Field's Sue was named for Sue Hendrickson, a
paleontologist who discovered the fossil skeleton in 1990 in South Dakota.
"This a specimen that places like the American Museum or the Field or the
Smithsonian would have been proud to have," Holtz said.
"To have this at a little museum in the heartland is a great thing."
Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Department of Geology Director, Earth, Life & Time Program
University of Maryland College Park Scholars
Building 237, Room 1117
College Park, MD 20742
Phone: 301-405-4084 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fax (Geol): 301-314-9661 Fax (CPS-ELT): 301-405-0796