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                         Burpee PaleoFest 2004 Report

Once again the little Burpee Museum in Rockford has pulled off a very successful weekend program with top-notch speakers and important scientific information. They are enjoying added attention due to their discovery of “Jane”, the small Hell Creek theropod dinosaur that has yet to be identified. Some steps were made in that direction over the weekend of February 21 and 22.

“Jane” News – Mike Henderson
Is she a young T. rex, a Nanotyrannus, something else, or something new? Last year some argued for young T. rex and others argued for Nanotyrannus. Now Mike Henderson is working on his PhD at Northern Illinois with “Jane” as his thesis topic. So most of his results will be reported after publication of research results. However, he was able to reveal some results in his talk at the end of Sunday’s events. Most of “Jane’s” bones have now been freed from the matrix and there are some interesting details appearing. Her right humerus is larger than would be expected for her size compared to SUE’s right humerus, indicating that she had longer arms than SUE. There is a U-shaped notch on the corocoid of ‘Jane” that does not appear in T. rexes. And they just recently found the palate bone and its shape is different from a T. rex also.

More “Jane” News – Greg Erickson
Greg Erickson who is aging SUE’s bones as well as those of many other dinosaurs has looked at ‘Jane’s’ bones and now has an estimate of her age. She was 11 or 12 years old when she died (Mike Henderson also noted that they have not found a cause of death yet). And she was also still in the fast growing part of her growth curve.

Mazon Creek Project Speaker, Mark Sutton of Oxford
The Mazon Creek annual meeting was also held over the weekend and there were exhibits of some outstanding fossils from the Field Museum collection. Mark Sutton also spoke about another Lagerstatten in the UK that had concretions like those found at Mazon Creek. However, this site is Silurian and the fossils it preserves are small and three dimensional! Most Mazon Creek and other soft bodied fauna are preserved flattened, so this is an exciting discovery. The problem is that these small fossils are impossible to prepare and the only way to see them is to destroy them. They are computer-imaged slice by tiny slice and then manipulated by the computer to show its structure and appearance. This also gives the capability of removing images of some parts to show other parts. It is interesting that Mark was one of the authors who reported the discovery of the ostracode crustacean with the oldest male parts that made quite a splash for this technique.

Pete Makovicky and Other Theropods in “Jane’s” World
Pete gave a great discussion on Dromaeosaurs and Ornithomimids as other dinosaurs living in “Jane’s” world. The famous T. rex was not the only meat-eater around. His discussion included Velociraptor from Mongolia (including the famous “fighting dinosaurs” fossil), and Deinonychus with its binocular vision and large brain, and Achillobator the giant Mongolian dromaeosaur (about the size of “Jane”). With the land connection between North American and Asia these animals are related. The Liaoning fossils of feathered dinos and birds are giving a more detailed picture of the evolution of theropods and birds. Questions still remain especially concerning behavior.

Hell Creek Plants with Kirk Johnson
Kirk is from the Denver Museum and is an acknowledged expert on fossil plants. He characterized the lay of the land and the plants as the important base of the world with animals as transients merely passing through it. He assisted Mike Henderson at the “Jane” site (66.5 MYA) to identify the many plants found with the fossil. He has found a 50% reduction in plants at the K/T and believes the asteroid theory as a cause. He showed a photo of Gurche’s SUE painting and zoomed in on the lower left corner to his passion – the plants that he identified as palms, nettles and marijuana. He described the plants from the “Jane” site as plentiful and indicated that there was a mat of aquatic floating plants indicating a stream that became a lake.
For those of you who may have collected Eocene Green River plant in Utah he has a great new web site to help you identify plants. He realizes that many plants (and most of them he has found) have not yet been identified or named. In an effort to find more of them he hopes the web site will encourage amateurs to participate in the process. The web site is <greenriver.dmns.org>.

Strange Pterosaurs by David Peters
This was an interesting talk by this St. Louis paleoartist who is an avocational paleontologist with a special interest in pterosaurs. He is the one who reported the vampire pterosaur at the SVP meeting in St. Paul. I think reaction has been tepid and this and other fossil interpretations by Peters are not generally accepted (as he also admitted). His interpretations seemed very extreme (to say the least!).

Bakker Will Be Bakker!!
As usual Bob Bakker put on an interesting show (very popular with the young crowd) and shared his thoughts on the daily life of dinosaurs. He stretched things (again) when he stated that he thought that Nanotyrannus was the big predator hunting in large packs of up to 30. Proof of this is some plant-eater death sites with up to 30 Nano teeth (and maybe 1-2 T rex teeth that showed up later to scavenge, I suppose).

Chiappe and Patagonia’s Titanosaur Nest Site
The dinner talk was by Luis Chiappe of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. That amazing huge nursery never fails to amaze and they have done more work analyzing the structure of the nests. He wrote about them in “Walking on Eggs”

There were many other talks and activities over the weekend and it is too bad that I could not get to all of them. Bill Simpson of Geology at the Field Museum gave a presentation on SUE as a Dinosaur Project in a Dinoblast Workshop. Allen Debus talked and demonstrated dinosaur sculpting for families. Bob Masek, Lead Fossil Preparator at the University of Chicago, led a workshop on fossil preparation and Lonnie Stark and Mike Henderson filled in for an ailing Wendy Taylor on collecting Mazon Creek fossils. You always leave PaleoFest wondering whom they are going to bring in the next year! Congrats for a job well done!!
 

          Karen Nordquist, ESCONI Paleontology Study Group

 Featured Web Sites

Field Museum of Natural History

SVP Society for Vertebrate Paleontology 


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