World’s smallest Apatosaurus to be unveiled in Norman

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For decades, the tiny bones of a baby Apatosaurus remained tucked away in a museum drawer. Bigger bones commanded the attention of scientists at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History: The world’s largest Apatosaurus, for one, which today dominates “The Clash of the Titans,” the centerpiece exhibit in the museum’s Hall of Ancient Life. 

Curator Rich Cifelli, a vertebrate paleontologist, looks over the rib cage of a baby Apatosaurus as its being assembled for placement in an exhibit at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History [Credit: Steve Sisney/The Oklahoman]

But now it’s the baby’s turn. The world’s smallest Apatosaurus, assembled from fossils collected more than 70 years ago, will be unveiled to the public Saturday. 

The young dinosaur will stand next to the full-size adult Apatosaurus in “The Clash of the Titans” exhibit. 

Curator Rich Cifelli said the museum now boasts the world’s largest and smallest Apatosaurus, both assembled from fossils found and collected in Oklahoma in the 1930s by a team led by noted paleontologist J. Willis Stovall. 

Stovall, who served as director of the University of Oklahoma’s first natural history museum, took advantage of federal Works Progress Administration money to fund archeological digs near Kenton. 

Paleontologist Kyle Davies, left, and construction manager Rick Whitehead assemble a baby Apatosaurus next to a giant Apatosaurus in “The Clash of the Titans” exhibit at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History [Credit: Steve Sisney/The Oklahoman]

The Kenton site was a gold mine, netting more than 70,000 dinosaur bones between 1935 and 1942, before the excavations were halted because of the United States’ involvement in World War II. 

The digs were frenzied, Cifelli said. 

“Bones were coming in at such a tremendous rate,” he said. “They got so many so fast that most of them were wrapped, labeled and put into storage, and there they sat.” 

The bones got little or no attention until the late 1980s, when the Sam Noble museum opened. For the first time, scientists had the resources, time and space to look at them. 

The baby Apatosaurus bones were rediscovered lovingly wrapped and tied up with string in a drawer in 1987, Cifelli said. 

“But with the new museum opening, we were going for impact. Bones of the big dinosaurs got the attention,” he said. 

“While we always knew we wanted to assemble a baby, we didn’t have time until recently.” 

Paleontologist Kyle Davies, left, assists construction manager Rick Whitehead as a baby Apatosaurus is mounted in “The Clash of the Titans” display at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History [Credit: Steve Sisney/The Oklahoman]

Thanks to a donation from the Whitten-Newman Foundation about a year ago, the museum’s paleontologists finally were able to focus on reconstructing the baby Apatosaurus. 

“Thousands of hours were spent preparing the Apatosaurus for display,” museum Director Michael Mares said. “There were numerous challenges that had to be overcome in order to complete the skeleton and present it to the public.” 

One of the greatest challenges in reconstructing the dinosaur was creating missing bones to complete the skeleton. 

The museum worked with engineers in OU’s College of Engineering to use a 3-D scanner to make the missing bones of the Apatosaurus. 

The newly reconstructed dinosaur measures about 11 feet long and just under three feet in height, dwarfed by the giant adult Apatosaurus, which measures about 92 feet in length, Davies said. 

The young dinosaur will be mounted in a pose “of fear or surprise, like he’s about to take flight,” Davies said. In the display, the adult Apatosaurus, a vegetarian, is about to clash with a large, meat-eating Saurophaganax. The baby naturally would want to run from the fight, he said. 

Author: Jane Glenn Cannon | Source: Newsok [October 13, 2011]

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