KENOSHA — Paleontologists and amateur scientists may be on the verge of unearthing a rarely seen fossil of a juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Over the summer, a group of professors, students, and volunteers, from Carthage College in Kenosha, went on a fossil hunting trip to Montana. During the second to last day of the trip, a volunteer brought a bag of fossils to the leader of the group, Dr. Thomas Carr. He is an associate professor of biology at Carthage College and Director of the Carthage Institute of Paleontology.
"And he handed me a gallon Ziplock bag, and I reached in, and I realized I was pulling out parts of a juvenile T-Rex," he said.
That's a big deal. According to Dr. Carr, there are only five or so quality specimens of juvenile T-Rexes.
“It’s arguably among the most scientifically important fossils that we have found since we started in 2006.”
The group has been going on these excursions since 2006. They dig in roughly the same place searching for links to the past that can piece together the history of our planet and the animals that have roamed it. That's what motivates Dr. Carr to dig in the summer Montana sun.
"Let's pretend that all the total knowledge that we had of people was your skeleton and my skeleton, and clearly our two skeletons aren’t enough to understand the full diversity and history of the seven billion people alive today, and also tracking back 2 or 300,000 years into the past when our species first evolved," Dr. Carr said.
Just to be clear, they didn't find an intact skull or whole claw. They found bones and fossil fragments. There were bits of an ankle, tooth, vertebrae, and snout. There were also small pieces of fossils that looked like rocks but were various parts of the dinosaur.
The team of researchers on this mission has trained eyes to be able to discern the differences between rocks and fossils. The untrained eye would group them together. They see distinct objects.
"Shape, color, and texture. So I’m looking for something that looks different in one or more of those categories," Dr. Megan Seitz, a preparatory and technician with Carthage College paleontology program. She was also on the trip to Montana.
Dr. Seitz works in a paleontology lab beneath the Dinosaur Discovery Museum in Kenosha. Inside are the hundreds of bones and fossil fragments that Carthage College has found in its 16 years of expeditions. There are teams of students, volunteers, and scientists working on piecing together the bits that are found as well as documenting them. In the back is a large walk-in closet filled from top to bottom with various fossils.
"And so we are gradually building up a library of fossils that we can then tell the greater story of our area and the animals in it," Dr. Seitz said.
That area, including the lab, is off-limits to the casual museum-goer. However, a large exhibit features anatomically correct replicas of meat-eating dinosaurs. It shows the connection between dinosaurs and modern-day birds.
"I think that the more evolutionary transitions that the public sees the greater the understanding of our natural world becomes among public at large," Dr Carr said.
It's all about encouraging and fostering the love of dinosaurs. At some point, many of us have gone through a dinosaur phase during childhood. This display of replica dinosaurs and the trips to Montana is designed to inspire us to learn about dinosaurs and fill in the knowledge gaps of history.