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Archive for Saturday, August 10, 2002

Curator envisions dinosaur exhibit

Discovery during summer expeditions to Wyoming inspires students

August 10, 2002

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Larry Martin has dreams as big as a brontosaurus.

Martin, senior curator at the Kansas University Natural History Museum, envisions a dinosaur museum at KU that would rival most in the country.

Michael Crownover, left, a volunteer who lives in Overland Park,
and Craig Sundell, a Kansas University master's student from
Lawrence, unearth dinosaur bones during an expedition in Wyoming.

Michael Crownover, left, a volunteer who lives in Overland Park, and Craig Sundell, a Kansas University master's student from Lawrence, unearth dinosaur bones during an expedition in Wyoming.

It could showcase the giant lizards collected by KU teams, many of which aren't on display at KU's Natural History Museum because of space limitations.

"With the dinosaurs we have in hand, if we put them on display, we could have a dinosaur exhibit that is comparable to the Field Museum (in Chicago) which has spent a fortune and the Denver Museum which has spent a fortune," Martin said.

But that would require money, something the university itself doesn't have much of these days. The KU Endowment Association has included $15 million for a biodiversity research center, which could allow some of KU's dinosaurs to be displayed.

Homeless lizards

KU researchers are becoming known as specialists in camarasaurs, a type of long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur that lived about 150 million years ago.

But they already have two camarasaurs they can't display because of space reasons. Even the camarasaur on display on the fifth floor of Dyche Hall Annabelle is crouching because the ceiling is too low, and only half of her is on display because there's not enough room.

"I'd like to see our dinosaurs get a home," Martin said. "I hate to think of Annabelle, Lyle and Nic-Mic with shopping carts, sleeping in malls."

The camarasaurs were extracted from a site in northeastern Wyoming in 1997 and 1998.

Lyle came first. He's about 65 feet long and was one of the most complete camarasaurs ever found.

Researchers were partly done preparing Lyle for exhibit when they found the 50-foot-long Annabelle the following year. They decided to prepare Annabelle instead because she would take less time to prepare.

Nic-Mic, which was discovered that same summer, was about 16 feet long.

Learning tool

KU takes expeditions to the Wyoming site every summer. It's on a 1,300-acre ranch, but most of the dinosaurs have been found on a ridge about the size of a football field.

This summer's was a joint trip with the University of South Korea.

Martin said the ridge apparently had been a river channel that flooded, sending unsuspecting dinosaurs to their drowning deaths.

Rod Pellegrini, a master's student in geology from Chile, said he had learned more about fieldwork in his summer in Wyoming than he had in textbooks. And it was fun, too.

"It's like finding a treasure," he said. "It's the thrill of the discovery."

But that's generally where the fun ends, Pellegrini said. Getting the huge dinosaurs back to the lab and preparing them for exhibit can be tedious.

"It's like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don't always fit," he said.

'Dinosaurs are sexy'

Martin said he was convinced there were more dinosaurs waiting to be excavated at the Wyoming site.

If KU were to open a dinosaur museum, Martin said he would still like to obtain a brontosaurus, a triceratops and a large carnivorous dinosaur such as a tyrannosaurus rex. He would also like a dinosaur collected in Kansas a rare find.

KU's collection already includes two duckbilled dinosaurs.

Both Pellegrini and Martin said they were convinced the museum could be a major draw in the region.

Martin said Interstate 70 could be marketed as a "dinosaur highway," with stops at the Field Museum in Chicago, KU, the Sternberg Museum in Hays and the Denver Museum.

"It's one of the few things we could do to have an impact on the local economy," he said. "Kansas gets the heck beat out of it for tourism. I think we could change people's travel plans."

Pellegrini said KU was in a unique position to balance its scientific research with popular appeal.

"They call it 'edu-tainment,'" he said. "We'd have lots of visitors. Dinosaurs are sexy. Even people who don't like dinosaurs have to admit that."

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