2009-05-07 / Features

Tons Of Dinosaur Bones Arrive In Philly For Study


PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Sixteen tons of bones belonging to what researchers say is one of the largest dinosaurs ever discovered arrived in Philadelphia in a large orange shipping container on a Delaware River pier.

When the seals were broken and the doors opened Friday, Drexel University Professor Kenneth Lacovara clambered in amongst more than 200 fossilized bones he and his students have spent five years excavating in a remote desert area of Argentina.

Paleontology colleagues and university officials raised glasses in a champagne toast.

But Lacovara said the return of the bones, still embedded in rock, covered with plaster and numbered in red paint, just marks the beginning of research into what may be a new species of dinosaur, what it looked like, how it moved, and how it lived.

"I'm here to report the beginning of the science,'' he said. "Now we take it into the lab.''

The 65 million-year-old bones appear to be from one of the largest types of dinosaurs, the long-necked, plant-eating sauropod class.

Lacovara estimates its weight at 60 tons, as much as about a dozen elephants.

"He's been telling us all for three years that he found a dinosaur. A really big one,'' said Peter Dodson, a University of Pennsylvania paleontology professor and longtime colleague who stood on the wind-whipped pier and watched the container being opened.

The bones will be delicately chipped from their protective plaster and the rock they were found in and studied at Drexel's College of Arts and Sciences, the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History at Pittsburgh.

Researchers will use laser scanning to create three-dimensional images of the bones, Lacovara said.

The computerized images can be used to make models of the dinosaur's probable appearance. By noting muscle attachment points on the bones, computer imaging can also recreate the creature's motions and gait.

The researchers will attempt to recover any tissues and cells that may still be contained in the fossils, but no, the creature won't be cloned. "To date, no one has recovered DNA from a dinosaur,'' Lacovara said.

Dr. William B. Gallagher, a paleontologist and visiting assistant professor at Rider University, said a trip to Lacovara's digging site ended with two hours of bouncing over rugged dirt roads and, "By the time we got there, there wasn't really a road.''

Lacovara, introduced by Drexel Arts and Sciences Dean Donna Murasko as "our Indiana Jones,'' looked the part in a khaki shirt and jeans. He said he and his students hope to return as soon as possible to the remote, fossil-rich area of Patagonia in southern Argentina, "and dig up another large dinosaur.''

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