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A complete T. rex fossil skull may soon tell us something new about the giant predator.






























































Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Chris Beard explains “Sampson” to
a school group. Photos: Mindy McNaugher

Samson Comes to Pittsburgh

What will the Tyrannosaurus rex skull called “Samson” reveal? It's hard to say. But audiences at Carnegie Museum of Natural History will be the first to know.

Still embedded in about a half-ton of stone matrix, the skull is on display at the PaleoLab of the museum. As the skull is revealed over 10 months of careful preparation, the public will get the clearest view yet of the head of T. rex. Scientists expect to discover more about the dinosaur’s senses—its vision, hearing, ability to smell—and whether its head had any characteristics so far unknown to science. Once the skull is revealed, the museum will make a mold and produce a cast for its collection.

There are only about 30 T. rex skulls in the world, and this new one, discovered recently in South Dakota, has been called the most complete T. rex skull in existence by experts in the field of paleontology. Unlike others, it was not distorted or fragmented after it was buried in what was probably an ancient riverbed, some 70 million to 67 million years ago.

About 40 to 50 percent of the skeleton exists, and the body of the specimen is being removed from the stone by expert Phil Fraley in New Jersey. Fraley, formerly of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the preparator of the large “Sue” T. rex at the Field Museum of Chicago, is now the head of the independent company Phil Fraley Productions. Fraley recommended that the skull itself be prepared by the experts at “The Home of the Dinosaurs,” Carnegie Museum of Natural History, because of the museum's long-standing expertise on dinosaur material.

Curator Emeritus Mary Dawson says it is hard to predict what new information will be discovered until the skull is prepared. We know already that T. rex had binocular (three-dimensional) vision because of the position of its eyes, and that it had large spaces for its olfactory lobes, suggesting it had a powerful sense of smell and, therefore, was perhaps a scavenger. Scientists now think that its nostrils were in a more forward position, like a snake's, than earlier reconstructions suggested. Hopefully the new T. rex skull will reveal more about the dinosaur’s brain cavity, the back part of its skull, and its palate. Curator Chris Beard notes that there is evidence on Samson’s skull of something different at the top of the head—perhaps T. rex had a horn!

Collected on a South Dakota ranch by a commercial group, the specimen was sold to Graham Ferguson Lacey, a collector in Great Britain who plans to put it on tour as an educational exhibit after it is prepared. In addition to a cast of the skull, Carnegie Museum of Natural History will receive a fee for its two years of preparation, part of which will go towards developing the new Dinosaurs in Their World exhibits.



Because of its reputation for exhibiting the highest quality gemstones and minerals, and its prestige in the world of mineralogists and collectors, Hillman Hall of Minerals & Gems often attracts fine specimens as gifts from important donors. One example is a recent donation of outstanding specimens by Bruce Oreck of Boulder, Colorado. His gift of 35 gemstones appraised at over $200,000 contains important specimens that Marc Wilson, section head of minerals at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, says “are perfectly tailored to fill the needs of the museum’s growing collection.”

Included are stones that will upgrade the collection in several areas due to their high quality and large size, including a spectacular blue aquamarine of 379.48 carets, flawless in quality. The donation also contains two “watermelon” tourmaline specimens. One has been installed in the Masterpiece Gallery of Hillman Hall and the other is planned for a future exhibit. Another gift of a rhodochrosite from David Oreck can be seen in the entrance case to Hillman Hall.

Hillman Hall has grown steadily in the beauty of its collections and in its international reputation since it opened in 1980. As part of the museum’s current renovation of exhibit halls and research space, and the moving of departments to accommodate its upcoming Dinosaurs in Their World expansion, Hillman Hall is also being analyzed for possible expansion as an exhibition space. The new gifts to the collection are a sign that Carnegie Museum of Natural History can produce an even more ambitious and beautiful display of minerals and gems in the future.


Hummingbirds: Jewels in the Sky
Special Exhibits Gallery n July 10 - September 13, 2004

Robert and Esther Tyrell are experts on Hummingbirds—he as photographer and she as the writer of several authoritative books on the subject.

“ It’s the greatest bird in the world,” says Esther. Not only is it the smallest bird in the world, but it beats its wings an average of 76 times a second to hover in mid-air and even to fly backwards, or upside down. Beneath their jewel-like plumage beats a heart that, relative to the bird’s size, is the largest of any animal on Earth, and that performs at the greatest metabolic rate of any bird.

Photographer Robert Tyrell was able to shoot an unblurred picture of hummingbirds in flight only after consulting with the inventor of the strobe light at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The solution to capturing images of the wings was a 1940’s vintage strobe light that flashes at a 50-millionth of a second, stopping the wings in flight.

There are 339 species of hummingbirds in the world, all of them in North and South America (but only 16 in North America). Although tiny, these midgets of the bird world are constantly fighting for privacy, and are combative in the air, scaring away larger, slower birds. The bee hummingbird in Cuba is the smallest, weighing no more than a penny, and sometimes is mistaken for an insect. The ruby-throated hummingbird found in Pennsylvania winters in Central Mexico, and to get there must fly across the Gulf of Mexico—500 miles of open water—in a flight that lasts 26 hours without food. Normally, like other hummingbirds, it must eat insects or flower nectar several times a day to survive.

And, finally, they are so exquisitely colored, their feathers reflecting like mirrors the colors of the sun, that they have a jewel-like appearance.


Long-time Powdermill Scientist Joe Merritt Retires from Powdermill Nature Reserve

After 25 years as resident director (and since 2003 as research scientist) at Powdermill Nature Reserve near Ligonier, Pa., Dr. Joseph Merritt has accepted a position as distinguished professor at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

Merritt taught small mammal ecology in the woods of western Pennsylvania. Photo: Mindy McNaugher

When he became the resident director of Powdermill in 1979, his mission was to oversee operation of the station, stimulate ecological scientific research, and preserve the museum’s 1,600-acre Field Station as a prime environment for natural history research. During his 25 years, he fostered scientific activities not only in the nationally respected bird-banding program but also by making Powdermill a destination for national and international conferences and other researchers. His own specialty in small mammal ecology became one of the centers of expertise at Powdermill.

Data from Powdermill is stored on the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecology Research (LTER) site, a database about global climate change and long-term phenomena. As a scientist, Merritt continued to teach in the evenings as an adjunct professor at Seton Hill College, and developed programs with Syracuse University and Antioch University, as well as the University of Pittsburgh’s Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology near Lake Erie. The visibility of ecological science at Powdermill was significantly raised during his tenure.

During Merritt’s directorship, with the support of Ligonier-area benefactors such as Frank Magee, Thomas Nimick, and the late Ingrid Rea, Powdermill built a new Nature Center in 1985, and then expanded it in 1993 with a classroom building, creating the present Florence Lockhart Nimick Nature Center. The size of the Reserve grew to 2,200 acres.

The education program flourished and expanded as well under Education Coordinator Theresa Rohall in recent years. And popular programs such as Garden Themes and Bird House Dreams have raised funds for facility improvements.

As distinguished professor at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Merritt will continue his teaching courses in mammalogy and ecology. He received his doctorate from the University of Colorado in 1976, and he notes that at Colorado Springs his new office at the Air Force Academy looks out on Pikes Peak.


Help Carnegie Museum of Natural History by Watching Great Golf
84 Lumber Golf Classic
Mystic Rock Golf Course at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.
Thursday, September 23 - Sunday, September 26

Carnegie Museum of Natural History has teamed up with the PGA Tour and the 84 Lumber Golf Classic to offer general admission tickets for only $10 per ticket.

This is a 55 percent discount from the retail price of the ticket ($22). Each ticket is good for any one of the four days of the tournament and, most importantly, the museum receives the full $10 price of every ticket sold to help with future programming.

Golfers and golf fans alike can seize this moment to see many of the world’s top golfers, including John Daly, and to raise money for Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Call 412.622.3288 for more information.

Audubon Society Award goes to Robert C. Leberman
The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania has given the 2004 W.E. Clyde Todd Award to Powdermill bird-bander Robert C. Leberman, citing his “outstanding effort in furthering the cause of conservation in Pennsylvania.” The award was named after the distinguished ornithologist at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, W.E. Clyde Todd, and has been given since 1971.


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