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Archive for Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Impressive sight

May 15, 2001

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Impressive. There doesn't seem to be a better word to describe the exhibit unveiled at Kansas University's Museum of Natural History over the weekend.

In sheer size, Annabelle is an impressive specimen. The 50-foot-long, 140-million-year-old camarasaurus skeleton was excavated in Wyoming. It has been reassembled and now is on display on the fifth floor of KU's Dyche Hall. Lewis Lindsay Dyche, the KU teacher and explorer after whom the building was named, would be proud.

Dyche brought back many specimens still on display in the museum, but none that compares with Annabelle. The skeleton of the massive female dinosaur was found along with an adult male and a baby camarasaurus, the first discovery of such a family grouping.

Thousands of spectators flocked to the Sternberg Museum in Hays recently to view a full-sized cast of "Sue," the famous tyrannosaurus rex on display at the Field Museum in Chicago. But Annabelle isn't a cast or a copy; she's the real thing. As Leonard Krishtalka, director of KU's museum, pointed out, Annabelle is "not a cast of a dinosaur; it's not a fake dinosaur. It's the actual petrified bones of a real dinosaur."

There were no cameras around when Annabelle walked the earth, and no written record. Skeletal remains like those on display in Lawrence are the only tangible link to this prehistoric period.

The two other skeletons excavated with Annabelle currently are in storage because KU doesn't have sufficient exhibit space to display them. That's a circumstance Kristalka would like to remedy by gaining approval for a new museum, education and research center, with an estimated price tag of $35 million.

It's unlikely that the state will fund such a plan any time soon, but that doesn't mean it isn't a worthy project. Annabelle and the other dinosaur skeletons are expected to be the subject of considerable study by researchers and could provide a catalyst to expand KU's reputation and prestige in this area. Private or public funding for an expanded museum should find a place in the university's long-range plans.

Until KU can provide her a larger display place, Annabelle will be crouching in readiness on the fifth floor of Dyche Hall. Even without standing up, she's bound to impress plenty of visitors to one of KU's most popular museums.

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