In a dark corner of the Field Museum’s basement, staff carefully lowered one of the largest hunks of dinosaur bones they have ever uncovered and tried to move in one piece.
Strapped to a broad pallet, the 2,500 pound chunk of bones and rock dubbed “the Beast” was wrapped in plaster to protect it on its trip from southern Missouri to Chicago’s Field Museum Friday.
Its contents: the bones of a 35-foot-long duck-billed dinosaur called Parrosaurus missouriensis that Field Museum scientists uncovered five years ago.
Since then, they have been shipping bones to the museum for cleaning and further study. But Friday’s shipment was the biggest yet for one reason: fear of slicing the fossils.
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The area where this dino was found, an hour south of St. Louis, was so packed with fossils of dinosaurs and other animals the crew took precautions not to chop the fossils in pieces.
As the crew carved around one bone, they’d hit another bone and carve around that one. Again and again.
“And it just kept getting bigger and bigger,” said Akiko Shinya, the Field’s chief fossil preparator. “It eventually became so big that we’re like, holy s— what did we do?”
Despite the technical challenges of moving the massive hunk of bones, the move went smoothly. The whole process of excavating and moving this one piece took three years.
Guy Darrough has been hauling dinosaur bones for 30 years. He drove these bones on a 20-foot trailer attached to his pickup truck.
“I’ve been hauling dinosaurs and getting looks forever,” he said.
In the museum’s basement, Shinya and her team will saw open the plaster casing and meticulously remove the bones from the mass of rock encasing them. The process will likely take a year.
Shinya says she’s fascinated with the latest dino haul because the bones were found in central United States, where dinosaur fossils are rarely discovered. “It’s very rare to find fossils, let alone almost complete, very huge dinosaurs coming out of the middle of the Ozarks,” she said.
The dig site in Bollinger County, Missouri, has been a sort of gold mine for paleontologists.
The discovery will help researchers understand more about the dinosaurs in the midwest, said Pete Makovicky, an associate researcher at the Field and professor at the University of Minnesota.
“This area is only 350 miles from Chicago. So in terms of understanding what dinosaurs in this part of the world are like, this is a unique window,” Makovicky said. “It’s also turning out to be one of the most productive locality, if not the most productive locality, east of the great plains,” he said.
Crews have now uncovered parts of four dinosaurs at the site.
The first was found in 1942 when a man dug in his backyard. That dinosaur, the Parrosaurus missouriensis, was the first dino ever found in Missouri. The state made it its official dinosaur in 2004.
Last year, scientists found fossils of a baby of that species in the same location. And it’s where Shinya’s team uncovered the current dino in 2017.
Although the crew believe this shipment of bones belongs to the same dinosaur species, Makovicky said the bones uncovered so far link it to an earlier type of duck-billed dinosaur with hundreds of teeth.
Makovicky considered the excitement of this latest dinosaur discovery.
“Most kids have gone out in their backyard and dug a hole thinking they’re going to find a dinosaur. And they find some rocks and maybe a broken bottle,” he said.
“This dinosaur was literally found by someone who went out and dug a hole in their backyard. It’s very uncommon and unusual, but it can happen.”