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6-9-15 Southwestern Dinosaur Project Featured in National Geographic Channel Documentary
by Andrew Austin, senior journalism major at
Southwestern Adventust University
|Chadwick and Lidia Davila, junior education major, working on the bones in the lab. (Southwestern Adventist University/Darcy Force)
The Nanotyrannus documentaries, Dino Death Match (available ON-DEMAND to customers of participating TV providers) and Ultimate Dino Survivor, premiered this past weekend, June 6 and 7, on National Geographic Channel.
The controversy surrounding the Nanotyrannus stems from some scientists wanting to classify it as an adolescent Tyrannosaurus rex. The documentaries seek to settle the question. A film crew was sent to Southwestern from England, spending two days on campus with Peter Larson from the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, South Dakota.
“The visiting videographers were just fabulous. It was a privilege to work with them,” said Art Chadwick, Southwestern research biology professor and co-director of Southwestern’s Dinosaur Research Project. “Peter Larson had never been here before, so every time there was a break in filming we would turn our attention to the collection.”
Larson brought a cast of the Nanotyrannus dinosaur that had been classified as a t-rex. Comparing it to Southwestern’s Nanotyrannus skull, they found that the two were almost identical.
“For the documentary, Larson went over all the reasons it couldn’t be a t-rex,” says TJ Sands, Southwestern junior theology major and assistant to Chadwick. “There are more than 50 differences between the Nanotyrannus and t-rex skulls.”
During the filming process, the scientists studied a cut section of one of the Nano bones that was then ground so thin that they could pass light through it. They found what could be solid evidence that the bones are, in fact, a Nanotyrannus: they found what might be medullary bone. Similar to birds, adult female dinosaurs produce medullary bone to draw calcium and create eggs during ovulation.
“If the dinosaur was in ovulation, then there is no way it could be an adolescent,” said Sands. “The argument would be moot.”
|Southwestern professor Dr. Art Chadwick at the Dino Dig site in Wyoming. (Courtesy Southwestern Adventist University)
People come from around the world each summer for the month of June to work at the excavation site to do research or gain class credit. Once excavated, the bones are wrapped in plaster and hauled back to the lab and museum on Southwestern’s campus. The collection has grown to over 17,000 bones.
One unique aspect of Southwestern’s Dinosaur Research Project is its database. Southwestern has the only dinosaur bone collection in the world with complete 3D images of every specimen. The database includes descriptive information about the condition and characteristics of each bone, the persons who discovered and cleaned the bone, and mapping so the location of each bone can be viewed in relation to all the other bones in the quarry. Southwestern students are involved with the whole process, everything from finding the bones to cleaning and taking the 3D pictures. Students, teachers, and scientists all over the world use the database for research.
Both the museum and the excavation site are open to the public by appointment. Visit swau.edu/dinosaur for more information or to schedule a visit. For more information on National Geographic Channel’s dinosaur programming, visit www.natgeotv.com.