There she was, towering in the air above my head. Her huge snout bristled with long, sharp, pointy teeth, engineered for one purpose, ripping and tearing flesh. Massive jaws powerful enough to clamp and hold its enormous prey, smiled down at me. Perched on her tiptoes, sharp eyes locked on her next victim, she looked ready to leap from the pedestal.
I was star struck, standing in the shadow of Sue, the largest and most complete tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered. Forty-two feet from snout to tail-end, with a rib cage large enough to house a family of four, she dominates the rotunda of the Field Museum in Chicago. Sue is the crown jewel of the museum’s extensive dinosaur collection and dinosaurs have always fascinated me so I savored every moment spent wandering the exhibits. As I stared up at the neck-cracking height of the brachiosaurus I envisioned it alive and grazing its way through the forest. Stopping by the duckbilled dinosaur’s exhibit we were able to hear what the hooting call must have sounded like.
I am also fascinated by the thought that these behemoths could be the distant relatives of our free flying birds of today. More and more the evidences points to a connection between the mighty dinosaurs and our feathered friends. The formidable and enthralling Sue provided scientists with another clue that helped prove the hypothesis. Her almost complete skeleton revealed she had a furcula, also know as a “wishbone”, which is common only to dinosaurs and birds. Try making a wish on that wishbone next Thanksgiving!
The conflicting image of the fierce T-Rex festooned with bright blue plumage perhaps with a perky red topknot, wars in my mind with that of the enormous charging reptile depicted in “Jurassic Park.” Reconsidering the dowdy little sparrow outside my window as a vicious, sharp-toothed predator ready to strike seemed fanciful, but there it was.
Today paleontologists have incredible tools and much more knowledge then those who first studied these strange creatures. Many of the pioneer dinosaur hunters were untrained gentleman hobbyists. Enthusiastic about displaying and explaining, their finds they often created unusual theories to reconcile current beliefs with the evidence at hand. When the first colossal bones were unearthed, the speculation was they belong to a giant race of humans, since gone extinct. When it became evident they were enormous reptile-like beasts, the paleontogists of the day couldn’t conceive that anything so large would have been able to support it’s massive size. The assumption was that they lay prone until hunger stirred them enough to lurch their large frames upright in search of food. Modern technology has made it possible to explore these era spanning and extraordinary beasts in more depth. The last century has seen an explosion of information that has corrected old misconceptions, revealed startling facts and presented new mysteries. The evidence supporting the theory that birds are the tiny descendents of dinosaurs grows stronger with each new discovery.
These animals populated the earth for a vastly longer time then we humans can even contemplate. The earth was their domain for millions of years compared to our mere thousands. For me, the thought that a part of them remains to soar with the birds that fill our sky is, as it ought to be. Perhaps dinosaurs truly were the first white meat.
Diana, for the Poplar Grove Muse