JANE ends year with a surprise

During the excavation of JANE the dinosaur in 2002, a storm that dumped six inches of rain shut the dig site down for two days due to extremely muddy roads. Most of the bones at the excavation site were covered with tar or other materials just as the rain started, but the deluge was so sudden, small areas of fossils were overlooked in the panic.

The bones that weren’t covered absorbed water rapidly, causing an accelerated weathering. Many of the exposed bones swelled, and some of these fragmented.

The ease of fragmentation occurred because the bones had not yet mineralized; that is, JANE’s bone constitution is still original material. They were preserved as original when she was quickly covered with water-borne sediments during or right after death.

The sediments, even after they dried, did not permit enough air to cause mineralization, which is the process that turns bones into bone-like stones. Mineralization replaces original bone elements with certain mineral elements, keeping the bones’ structural integrity the same in appearance. But from your basic periodic table of elements standpoint, the mineralized bone is different.

The exposed JANE site material was gathered up, and though it didn’t make it into the “big pod,” it did come back to Rockford. Some of it came back in smaller pods sharing space with non-exposed material gathered up just outside JANE’s pod area. Still other exposed material came back wrapped in aluminum foil.

I think foil is the first layer in a paleo pod. Then burlap, then plaster of paris. Though the “big pod” has gotten a lot of attention, the smaller packages have been examined, and they have borne fruit as far back as a year ago. But it was just a couple weeks ago when an exposed material package wrapped in foil was opened bearing a Christmas gift.

Bone preparator Deb Moauro was checking the exposed material when she discovered big chunks of what she thought was a toe segment. Problem was, it looked too small.

There is a bone rule when dealing with vertebrates, and that is, if it looks like a foot bone but it’s too small, well, then, it’s a hand bone. Deb was elated, having found a JANE’s hand bone, plus, there were fragments of another hand segment.

The hand bone found is called a carpal, which is the middle segment of the finger. This one is from the first finger on the right hand.

According to Burpee’s Mike Henderson, finger bones of North American tyrannosaurids are rare. The Chicago Field Museum possesses nearly the whole right hand of Sue. Some of Stan’s hand (another T. rex) is on display with the rest of the dinosaur, of course, at Peter Larson’s affiliated museum in front of the Black Hills Institute. A partial hand is housed at the Museum of the Rockies, home of Curator Jack Horner, and the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History has a few hand bones of a young T. rex.

According to Deb Moauro, JANE’s carpal is bigger than Sue’s carpal, which doesn’t jibe with the theory that JANE is a young T. rex. This fact points to JANE as being different. JANE’s bigger finger segment doesn’t answer any questions; it raises more. There are things unique to JANE that you won’t find in other specimens. There’s a possibility JANE’s I.D. will never be known.

JANE appears to be a mystery caught in a riddle wrapped in an enigma and gift wrapped in aluminum foil, burlap and plaster of paris.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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