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For the past six months, Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s most famous residents—Diplodocus carnegii, Apatosaurus louisae, Allosaurus fragilis, Protoceratops andrewsi, and Tyrannosaurus rex —have been getting badly needed makeovers in the New Jersey studios of master dinosaur preparator Phil Fraley. Their bones are being cleaned and preserved, then they’ll be reassembled
in dynamic, scientifically accurate poses before being disassembled, again, for their return to Pittsburgh.

Soon, Carnegie’s famous five will be joined by three lesser-known dinosaurs that for decades hung encased in ancient rock and plaster on the walls of the museum’s Dinosaur Hall. But first, museum fossil preparators must complete the arduous work of freeing the well-preserved skeletons—some of the best-preserved of their respective species ever found—from stubborn rock that, at times, seems unwilling to release them.

Their names are Camptosaurus, Dryosaurus, and Corythosaurus, and when Dinosaurs in Their World opens in late-2007, they’ll be standing again for the first time in millions of years. Camptosaurus and Dryosaurus, both unearthed in the early 1900s during Carnegie digs in Utah, will permanently reside in displays dedicated to the Late Jurassic period (159-144 million years ago). Corythosaurus, obtained as part of an exchange with the Royal Ontario Museum in 1940, will be placed beside other creatures from the Late Cretaceous period (99-65 million years ago).

“ It’s really amazing when you think about it,” says Matt Lamanna, the museum’s assistant curator of Vertebrate Paleontology and chief dinosaur researcher. “We’re removing the remains of these dinosaurs from the rock they died in millions of years ago—some of it in PaleoLab, in full view of our visitors.”

The people doing the work are Paleontology Laboratory Manager Allen Shaw and Scientific Preparators Dan Pickering, Alan Tabrum, Yvonne Wilson, and Norm Wuerthele. In her journal entries documenting her early work on Camptosaurus, published on Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s website (www.carnegiemnh.org), Wilson likens the process—the chiseling, the chipping, the drilling—to “trying to wear away a mountain with a dress pin.”

And there’s more where that came from. A lot more.

Following are some slices of life from PaleoLab over a six-month period in 2005, courtesy of Wilson, who has spent many long days with Camptosaurus. And, yes, a year later, her work continues.

Journal Entries: From Yvonne Wilson

January 13, 2005, 5:20 PM (first entry)
We have taken the Camptosaurus that has been in Dinosaur Hall since 1925 and moved it into PaleoLab. The skeleton is mounted into a wall panel. Instead of rock, it is largely encased now in plaster. Our goal is to free the fossil in order to make a freestanding, mounted dinosaur. And this is the start of it.

There is still original rock, or matrix, surrounding the torso. This rock, from the Morrison Formation (in Utah), is known to be extremely hard, sometimes harder than cement. That could be part of the reason the original workers left this specimen mostly embedded in the rock. Another reason, though, is that it is nicely articulated (meaning, the bones are still in the same place as they were in the body). I can only hope it will cooperate.

January 28, 2005, 4:19 PM
Our dinosaur curator, Matt Lamanna, asked us to check out the quality of the bone on the "underside" of the specimen. He wanted to make sure the fossil would hold up once it is taken out of the rock.

We opened up the back fully. This is the "jacket," or the plaster and burlap package in which paleontologists wrap their fossils in order to ship them home from the field. There is a large board supporting the back of the jacket.

Hey, what is this? They left us a message in a bottle!

The workers who put the exhibit together left a note saying where and when the specimen was found (northeastern Utah, 1922), and who worked on the mounting project in 1925. In a second
handwritten message, there is a notation that the exhibit was taken down and "lighted" in 1934.


March 30, 2005, 11:20 AM
Just looks like a hunk of rock now. Yet a dinosaur lurks beneath.

I attack the rock lump with hammer and chisel. On rock this hard (arrrg!), this method is much faster than an airscribe—though I still feel like I am trying to wear away a mountain with a dress pin.April 6, 2005, 11:42 AM

… My arms ache with the effort at the end of the day, and I can feel the ringing of the chisel in my hand even after I stop to take a break.



May 21, 2005, 1:17 PM
As I work along the spinal column, I am finding things that are both lovely and awful at the same time—ossified tendons. These are mineralized tendons that helped stiffen the backbone and support the tail of the dinosaur. They are frequently found in ornithopod dinosaurs (ornithopods include dinosaurs such as Iguanodon, Hadrosaurus, and my Camptosaurus). I am consulting with other preparators to see if I can save these slender tendons.

June 5, 2005, 6:34 PM
I have been isolated with this fossil in sensory-depriving mask, goggles, bandana, earplugs, and earphones. One ends up in a "zone" where the fossil becomes the only thing in the world with you. In this mode, I have unearthed most of the ribs.

The whole beast looks like a side of beef these days.

After I free the ribs from the spinal column, my plan is to roll the jacket so that I can attack the vertebrae from the opposite side.


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