The Dinosaurs Were Back – at the Meeting House
There’s really only one type of lecture subject that can fill a room – with ages young and old – as it did January 28 at the Friends Meeting House. Yes, you guessed it … dinosaurs!
By Jim Byrne
There’s really only one type of lecture subject that can fill a room – with ages young and old – as it did January 28 at the Friends Meeting House.
Yes, you guessed it … dinosaurs!
The Committee to Save the Bird Homestead was thrilled to offer “Barnum Brown and R.T. Bird: Two Decades of Amazing Fossil Discoveries”, a PowerPoint presentation by paleontologist Lowell Dingus of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Dr. Dingus was joined by his colleague, Carl Mehling, Collections Manager in the museum’s Division of Paleontology.
Guests were captivated by stories about their hometown hero, R.T. Bird, as well as Barnum Brown, considered the preeminent dinosaur collector in history. Both Dr. Dingus and Mr. Mehling answered many questions, and the latter, who runs the Big Bone Room at the museum, brought along a few fossil specimens that Bird collected.
“It was a thrill to have the two paleontologists here, along with the dinosaur fossils, and to launch cooperative programs between the American Museum of Natural History and the Bird Homestead,” said Anne Stillman, President of the Committee to Save the Bird Homestead. “It was wonderful to celebrate R.T. Bird’s major role in excavating the museum’s unparalleled collection of vertebrate fossils, which is the largest in the world.”
When Dr. Lowell began his presentation, he admitted he had no idea there even was a Bird Homestead and said that he and Mehling were excited to be in Rye. He spoke adoringly of Barnum Brown, who discovered Tyrannosaurus Rex, which means “Tyrant King of Dinosaurs”.
“They used to use dynamite to blow up rock around excavation sites,” said Dr. Lowell. “Unfortunately we don’t get to do that anymore – they were much more manly in their day.”
What Dr. Dingus did get to do, however, was direct the Fossil Hall Renovation Project at the AMNH in the mid-90s. The $47 million undertaking, in which Dr. Lowell and Mehling teamed up, led to, among other things, the T-Rex shifting from an upright position to its current pose of the body — parallel to the ground.
Stunning many on hand, Dr. Dingus added that recent discoveries have led scientists to believe that the T-Rex likely had feathers. “We already knew dinosaurs were close relatives of birds, but at Thanksgiving next year remember what that turkey descended from!”
When an audience member asked how paleontologists know where to dig for bones, Dr. Lowell answered, “It takes a lot of walking – then you find fragments and begin brushing away.” He added that while old school bone collectors got to wear pith helmets, these days it’s mostly just baseball caps.
So, how about that hometown hero, R.T. Bird? Well, in the 1930s R.T. was driving his Harley-Davidson through Arizona when he pulled over to set up camp. He got off the bike and walked over to where some rubble had fallen. The way the sun was setting caused light to rake across the shadows, allowing him to see a portion of a fossilized mouth. He boxed it up and sent it to his father here in Rye, who then sent it to Brown at the AMNH. The event catalyzed Bird’s interest in paleontology, and afforded him the opportunity to become Brown’s principal assistant for the next ten years.
“They were an amazing team, who made so many amazing discoveries,” said Dr. Dingus.
Mr. Bird’s most famous discovery occurred around 1940, when he identified footprints outside trading posts in Texas as dinosaur tracks. Today, you can see those very footprints underneath the Apatosaurus exhibit at the AMNH.
Read more about the footprint adventure, in R.T. Bird’s own words, at www.naturalhistorymag.com/picks-from-the-past/ 241755/thunder-in-his-footsteps.