for National Geographic News
Dinosaur hunters often regale the world with news of their exotic discoveries after the factbones of ancient giants pulled from a hillside in Madagascar, chipped from the ice in Antarctica, dug from the pampas of Patagonia.
Now the world is invited along as a team of paleontologists excavate a Tyrannosaurus rex from the siltstone at a ranch in eastern Montana. All they need to do is log on to Unearthing T. rex.
"Our favorite part of our job is what happens in the fieldbeing there as the scientific secrets are revealed," said Peter Larson. A veteran T. rex hunter, Larson is president of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, South Dakota.
"We always enjoy sharing this process with other fossil enthusiasts, and we thought the Web site would be the best and coolest way for people all over the world to experience what we're experiencing," he said.
The dig site is at a private ranch. Its owners and location are being kept private until near the end of the excavation, which began Monday. Larson said he expects the dinosaur to be fully excavated within three weeks.
The dinosaur, nicknamed Wyrex, was first discovered in May 2002 by the ranch owner and an amateur fossil collector, who encountered a mysterious bone. They contacted Larson, whose institute specializes in dinosaur excavations, to identify it. Larson said it was a toe of T. rex.
"Not far from the original toe bone, parts of the pelvis, both legs, and tail were awaiting discovery. From just this much information, we realized Wyrex was worth not only excavation but also our Web site," Larson said.
The Web site is being updated daily from the field. As the excavation unfolds, the team will use videos, photographs, slide shows, an interactive bone map, and other features to illustrate what they are seeing.
In addition, visitors to the site can send comments to the paleontologists, participate in a discussion forum, and seek the opinion of dinosaur experts virtually interacting with the dig team.
Thomas Holtz, a geologist and T. rex expert at the University of Maryland in College Park, said he is excited at the opportunity for the general public to experience the science of this excavation via the Internet.
"They are not the first team to do it for a paleo dig, but it's not standard practice yet, and it does help the public learn more about how the field of paleontology works," said Holtz, who is not a member of the dig team. "And the specimen itself looks to be very good."
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