The paleontologist in this case wasn't a professor with multiple degrees, but rather a 9-year-old girl who happened upon a small bone that experts believe belonged to a Cretaceous era raptor. The bone measures just about 1/2 inch long. Experts at the park think it was likely a vertebra from a raptor's tail. The bone is now on its way to the Smithsonian, where it will undergo further examination.
According to media reports, Gabrielle Block, the fourth-grader who unearthed the bone, was with her budding paleontologist sister, Rachel, and parents. They were sifting through dirt and debris left behind by a recent rain storm when she spotted the fossil. She showed it to her mother, Karin Block, who thought she could see little holes in it, where the marrow might have been.
If the bone is verified, it probably dates to 110 million years ago, when this part of Maryland enjoyed a tropical or sub-tropical climate. Dinosaurs, crocodiles, turtles and fish all flourished under the balmy conditions.
(Image: Maryland Geological Survey)
Maryland's Dinosaur Park sits within a 41-acre property. It's open from noon to 4 PM the first and third Saturdays of each month. For more information about the park, please call 301-627-7755, TTY 301-446-3402.
The probable prehistoric raptor bone find also comes at a time when Montana State University researchers are learning more about the "gruesome world" of more modern day birds of prey, such as eagles, hawks, owls, osprey and falcons.
In the Nov. 25th issue of PLoS One, they report how such birds kill their victims. It's not a pretty sight.
After analyzing hundreds of raptor claws, photographs and videos to understand raptor-prey interactions, Denver Fowler and his team discovered that some raptors dismember their prey and eat them alive. Depending on the type of raptor, the birds of prey break necks, pry open body cavities, pierce internal organs and strike killing blows.
"It was a very interesting project," said Elizabeth Freedman, one of two co-authors. "People just haven't noticed some of these things before."
"It was very surprising that (this type of study) wasn't done before," lead author Denver Fowler said of the study.
Thinking of Dinosaur Park, the raptor study may even in future shed light on the lifestyle of carnivorous dinosaurs, according to the researchers.
Freedman said, "It's often helpful to look at modern species and make comparisons to how dinosaurs may have behaved."
Please check out this page from the Maryland Geological Survey to learn more about dinosaurs from the old line state.