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Archive for Thursday, August 22, 2002

T. rex heads for Washington

August 22, 2002

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— A partial Tyrannosaurus rex discovered in the badlands of Montana will be airlifted out of the backcountry this weekend on the first leg of a journey to the Natural History Museum on the Mall, Smithsonian scientists have announced.

Workers from the National Museum of Natural History and the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman unearthed the remains of two tyrannosaurs along with a triceratops at a dig this summer on remote Hell Creek

In recent years, the site has emerged as a rich trove of all sorts of dinosaur bones. The T. rex, a 7-ton carnivore with 6-inch teeth, prowled the area more than 65 million years ago.

The finds should help unravel mysteries about how the creature evolved and behaved.

"It is phenomenally well preserved. These additions tell us more about how T. rex lived," said Doug Erwin, the Smithsonian's interim director and curator of the paleobiology department.

Last month the team finished identifying the specimens and encasing them in plaster jackets to be flown out. The Smithsonian's share of the fossils should arrive in Washington this fall.

The more complete tyrannosaur will go to the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University, where expedition leader Jack Horner is curator of paleontology. Horner was recently named a senior scholar in paleobiology at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum.

One significant finding of Horner's work and recent digs is evidence that T. rex was relatively common.

"The T. rex is thought of as a fierce predator," Erwin said. But researchers are beginning to question whether the picture presented in books and movies is correct. T. rex may have been a scavenger instead of a hunter, he said.

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