How scientists solved this dinosaur puzzle

How scientists solved this dinosaur puzzle


In 1908 in Montana, paleontologists uncovered
this: The remains of a sharp-toothed carnivorous
dinosaur. At the time, it was the largest one ever discovered. They called it Tyrannosaurus Rex. Today, it’s mounted here. Well, some of it is. Because they didn’t find a full dinosaur
in 1908. They found the skull, most of the tail, a
rib cage, pelvis, and most of the vertebrae. But the rest of what you’re seeing here? It’s man-made. And that’s true for most dinosaur exhibits. When paleontologists uncover the bones of
a dinosaur they usually only find part of it, leaving them with a prehistoric puzzle full of missing pieces. So… how do they fill in the blanks? When we first started mounting dinosaurs in
the 1900’s, researchers had to make a lot of educated guesses.
The first step was to get the bones they did have in the right places. And one thing that helped is to look at animals
that exist now. We can just look at this Tyrannosaurus Rex
and we can see a lot of characteristics on it that are present in, like, chickens for instance: Dr. Mark Norell runs the paleontology division
at the American Museum of Natural History. If you look at the feet it has three primary
toes that all face forward. It has an S-shaped neck. It carries its backbone parallel to the ground. From there they had to start filling in the
missing pieces. For this T-Rex, both hind limbs and both front
limbs were missing. But judging by its skeleton, researchers determined
that it was closely related to an Allosaurus. So an artist was commissioned to hand carve
the missing pieces using the allosaurus skeleton as a reference. Years later, they’d be replaced by replicas
of real T-Rex bones, and it turned out that T-Rex feet do look like Allosaurus feet. But there were other times when this kind of guesswork didn’t work out so well. This long-necked dinosaur is an Apatosaurus. But for a long time, we called it something
else. When researchers originally discovered it,
it was missing its skull, and so they made it one. But they made the skull based on some bad
assumptions. They made the skull look like a Camarosaurus,
which is a very different group of dinosaurs. So it has a very high domed skull. So they put the Camarosaurus skull, on the Apatosaurus
body, and gave the “new” dinosaur a name: “Brontosaurus.” The error was finally corrected In the 1970’s. The skull was replaced with a new, more accurate
version, and brontosaurus was renamed: Apatosaurus. But today, I can confidently walk you through
the fossil hall in a museum and say these skeletons are 99% – 100% accurate, because
designing exhibits now? It has very little to do with guessing. Today the field of paleontology has exploded
to the point where we’re uncovering almost one new dinosaur species a week Today there’s more dinosaur paleontologists
than there ever have been there’s more dinosaurs being discovered than there have been at a
quicker rate each year. And with more dinosaurs comes more accurate
exhibits. While we still haven’t found a fully intact
T-Rex, we now have the information to build one: When I first got my job here 30 years ago, there was about 10 T-Rex’s found and now
there’s 46. So if we just put all those together we know
what the whole skeleton looked like. So this T-Rex is ultimately kind of a Frankenstein
monster – the pieces used to complete it were copied from various other T-Rexes And finally, in special cases like SUE, an exceptionally
large T-rex on display at the Field Museum, researchers use computers to scan and mirror
limbs. As in, if they have a left leg they essentially
flip it to create a right leg of the same size. It’s efficient and precise work. In other words, it’s highly unlikely you’ll
stumble across a dinosaur with the wrong head today. Because even though dinosaur skeletons don’t
show up in one piece, there’s no longer a lot of mystery around how they’re supposed
to look. Look at Norell’s newest exhibit at the Museum
of Natural History and you can see that today, dinosaur researchers have moved on from the
skeleton to asking other questions about T-Rex. How did move? How did it grow? How did it live? Now we work with everything from neurobiologists
to material scientists, to engineers, just to do some of the work on these things and that’s
pretty much a new thing. Thirty years ago that really wouldn’t have have happened. In this case, Norell and his team have reconstructed
full models of the enormous predator that are more lifelike than ever before. So… Why are we even piecing together skeletons
anymore? Why not just display what’s actually found? Paleontologists say that it’s because exhibits
aren’t just about boasting discoveries. When you make an exhibit you know that you
have to tell a story. And that story isn’t about how humans found
some fossils in 1908, It’s the story of a living animal that walked
the Earth millions of years before us. In this video I briefly mentioned a time when scientists stuck the wrong head on a dinosaur and mislabeled it “Brontosaurus”. And while I didn’t have time to fully explore that topic in this video, I wanted a quick and easy way to compile some of the research around the debate on whether Brontosaur ever existed. So I created a website with Wix, where I could easily organize some of the theories. It’s a super easy way to create a website, click on the link below to make your own. Wix doesn’t directly impact our editorial, but their support does make videos like this one possible. So go check them out.