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Assembling a Dinosaur

 

Overview

The rocks where fossils are found can be soft and crumbly or very hard. Often both the rocks and the fossilized bones contain minerals that help protect the bones from weathering. Exposed bone, however, is sometimes very fragile. To prevent the bones from breaking,paleontologists , the scientists who study dinosaurs , use certain procedures to protect a fossil during its excavation and shipment to the laboratory. Once a specimen has been carefully exposed and examined for minerals, it is prepared for removal. First, the fossil is brushed with a type of glue or plastic and then covered with strips of wet paper and burlap dipped in Plaster of Paris for protection and support. The most critical part of this preparation is when the fossil has to be carefully turned over and the underside is also covered and protected. After the plaster sets, the fossil is numbered and examined to determine what structural part of the animal has been recovered. Back in the laboratory, each bone is cleaned and strengthened. Knowledge of today's animals' skeletons can help the scientists investigate the dinosaur's remains. By comparing features of bones, a paleontologist may be able to identify the fossil and its function. Bones along the back, from the skull or in the jaw are very distinctive and often used to identify the fossil's remains. Most or all of the skeleton can then be pieced together if enough bones have been found. Paleontologists may have to estimate the size and shape of missing bones to complete a full skeleton. Once all the pieces are identified, a model of the animal is built to assist the scientist in rebuilding the entire skeleton. Then a large metal framework is welded together to support the fossilized bones. The bones are then free mounted to the framework. If a simpler mount is desired, scientists will fasten the fossils to a slab and use a bas-relief mounting. Bas-relief mountings display the fossil as it was buried. Either method preserves the dinosaur's structure for further observation and research.

Activity

Using similar techniques of mounting that paleontologists use, you will create a scale model of your favorite dinosaur. Make sure you know as much as you can about the dinosaur you choose to assemble. Materials
  • Various lengths of 3 cm and 6 cm-wide lumber
  • Saw
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Light wire or plastic mesh
  • Newspaper
  • Plaster of Paris
  • Trowels
  • Paint
1. After gathering information and pictures, select your favorite dinosaur. 2. Begin building a framework for your dinosaur model out of the wood, hammer, and nails. 3. Now cover your framework with mesh to begin creating the dinosaur's structure. 4. Dip newspaper in the plaster of Paris and begin wrapping it around your framework. If you want to add details like feathers, scales or other features, try carving them into the structure while the plaster is drying. 5. Once the plaster is completely dried, paint your dinosaur to make it look as realistic as possible. 6. Start a "dinosaur zoo" for the class's models.

Resources

  • "The Dinosaur Age," FA PHENIX.
  • "Dinosaurs - Puzzles from the Past," NGS
  • "Dinosaurs: The Terrible Lizards," AIMS.
  • "The Dinosaur Hunters," BBC TV.