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25 January, 2001

If you could travel back 135 million years in EarthÝs history you would find a place that resembles no ecosystem on the planet today. For starters there were no grasses. Which means there was more free time to enjoy whatever summer activity you like to pursue.

Geologists have identified this time in EarthÝs history as the Mesozoic Era, but most of us know it as the time of the dinosaurs. These scientists also split the Mesozoic Era into three periods: Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. Each period can be easily identified by the species of dinosaurs occupying that time. This is due to the fact that scientists have based the period divisions on specific dinosaur species present during that time. For more details about the Mesozoic Era and the dinosaurs ask your neighborhood 1st grader about the lifestyles of the huge and famous.

One of the assignments I have left for my Evolution and Genetics students is to research the geologic and biological history of Antarctica starting around 225 million years ago. As they will discover during their research, it is relatively recent in geologic terms, that Antarctica became a frozen continent. Before the shifting of the EarthÝs plates which moved Antarctica into its current position, separating Australia and New Zealand forever, there was a thriving ecosystem in place. Polar scientists are painstakingly piecing together the history of this incredible land.

During the 1990-91 field season, the National Science Foundation funded a group of paleontologist. Using gasoline powered jackhammers, this energetic group removed 5,000 pounds of fossil bearing rock and consumed and equal amount of steinlagers. They then shipped this fossil bearing rock to Illinois. Once the fossil was freed from the rock matrix, the scrap created a rock pile that is now the highest elevation point in the state.

The fossils were found at an elevation of 4000m, within the Transantacrtic Mountains, approximately 600 kilometers from the geographic South Pole, at Mt Kirkpatrick. All of the fossils can be dated to the Jurassic time period. The Jurassic period was a time of the long necks (Apatosaurus, Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus), spike dinos (Stegosaurus) and the meat eater (therapods) Allosaurus. Allosaurus who is a smaller version of Tyrannosaurus. Perhaps the most impressive find is that of a therapod. The therapod fossil was 50% complete and is appropriately named Cryolophosaurus elliot or the ýfrozen crested dinosaurţ referring to the unique head ornamentation on this therapod.


Artistic rendering of the skull of Cryolophosaurus elliot


Cryolophosaurus elliot or the "frozen crested dinosaur" referring to the unique head ornamentation on this therapod.


Here is the femur, upper leg bone, of Cryolophosaurus elliot still trapped in the rock matrix.


The cleaned and prepared humerus, upper arm bone, of the therapod.


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