Dinosaurs on Display
Just think if you were the museum director who received all those crates from Tanzania! How would you know how all of the bones went back together? How can any scientist be sure that she is setting up a skeleton in the right way?
When paleontologists are lucky, they keep finding more and more of the same fossil skeletons. But many times, all they have to work with when they attempt to identify a new species is a single, broken bone. Even if they do have a full skeleton, it's only like an outline. How did they know how much it weighed? Usually, they use similar modern-day animals as an example of what they think it should look like.
Comparing dinosaurs to modern animals worked in the case of the Apatosaurus. Its neck looks almost exactly like the neck of a turkey. Unfortunately, this idea didn't work for Elasmosaurus, which was one of the plesiosaurs; the fossil hunter thought its long neck was its tail and put it together with its neck upside down!
Do you think that you would be good at putting fossils back together? One test you could do is to try placing several pictures of dinosaurs upside down on a table. Without turning them around, can you guess what they are? Try holding the pictures up to a mirror. Now what do you see? Can your friends guess which ones they are by doing the same tests?
Who am I?
I am one of the first dinosaurs found that was thought to have possibly had feathers. Although my feathers were never found, the idea of a feathered dinosaur took flight from me. Who am I?
All Mixed Up
What would you think if you went into a people display at the museum and a dinosaur paleontologist had put the head of a gorilla on a human's body? Something like that happened to the Apatosaurus. Museum directors placed another dinosaur's head on its body and left it that way for many years.
Things like this often happen when paleontologists only find parts of several different skeletons, and have to figure out how they go together. Fossil hunters don't usually even find complete dinosaur skulls because the bone that their skulls were made of is very thin. The skulls often break because of the enormous weight of the rocks pressing down on them.
Because scientists believed that Diplodocus dragged its tail on the ground, they displayed it that way in numerous museums. Later they decided that it actually used its tail to balance itself by holding it up in the air! They also had a difficult time trying to decide whether Iguanodon stood on all four feet or only two. For many years, museum directors thought he rested his body on his tail like a kangaroo until they tried to place his skeleton on display. Then they realized that they would have to break his tail to rest it in that position!
Many people often go to natural history museums to see dinosaurs. If you want to find a museum that is close to your area, try looking for one on the Internet or in your phone book. Another place you could visit is a children's museum. Many children's museums offer activities about dinosaurs, and some even display exhibits that include dinosaur robots.
Words to Know
When you reconstruct something, you rebuild it. When the fossil hunters find the many broken pieces of dinosaurs, they take them to museums, where workers put them back together or reconstruct them.
Which Bone Is Which?
If you've seen one bone you've seen them all, right? Well, not exactly. A rib bone is small, while a thighbone is large. The same was true with the dinosaurs. Of course, if you found the thighbone of a very small dinosaur, you might think it was a bone from the lower leg of a large dinosaur.
If you want to quiz your family or friends, you can play the Bone Guessing Game. The next time you have fried chicken, save some bones from the wings and the thighs, and a few from the breast. Then wash and dry the bones. See if your family can guess which bone was a wing bone, a breastbone, or a thigh bone.
Another activity that would be fun to try is to reconstruct a skeleton. All you need is a whole chicken from your grocery store. First you will have to ask an adult to cook the chicken until the meat falls off the bones. Once the bones are washed (they will probably break during cooking and washing), you can try to rebuild the chicken's original skeleton. If you need help, you can try looking up pictures of a skeleton in a book or on the Internet.
Why don't dinosaurs ever forget?
Can you find the seven words that make up the answer to this riddle?