By Annabelle Buck
A new story of what life was like at the time of the dinosaurs is unfolding in the Academy’s Fossil Prep Lab. A new set of T. rex fossils still encased in a large protective plaster “field jacket” recently arrived and is on public view.
Over the next few months, technicians will carefully remove the plaster created around the fossils when they were unearthed and then gingerly uncover them from the many layers of hard sandstone than encases them. The whole process will take place in full public view, so museum visitors can watch and ask questions of the staff.
“What I have is a mound of rock that has entombed these bones for millions of years,” said Jason Poole, supervisor of Dinosaur Hall. “We have no idea what we will find on the bones or even which bones we have in the jacket.”
And that’s what’s so compelling. “What will these bones tell us about the life of this particular T. rex or of its death? Will there be tooth marks on it from a predator? Will the fossils tell us how it died?”
What is known about this T. rex is that it died 65 million years ago near Elk Basin, Wyo., where it was found several years ago by paleontologists from the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton. Thanks to an ongoing partnership with the museum, the job of preparing the fossils for future study is being done by the Academy’s Fossil Prep Lab, under Poole’s guidance.
Poole and his team will be aided by students of the Academy’s Women In Natural Sciences, a free after-school and summer science enrichment program for high school girls. Poole has taken WINS students on dinosaur digs in the past and says the fossil preparation work provides good experience to students who want to pursue paleontology in college or who just love shedding light on the mystery of dinosaurs.
“It is always the mystery that compels me, so I think that is the cool aspect of any new find,” said Poole.
The T. rex fossils are replacing the hadrosaur fossils that were being prepared for the last year and are nearly ready to be removed from the Fossil Prep Lab for further study.