Researchers have used the world's largest CT scanner, operated by the Boeing Co. in California and used to examine space shuttle parts, to get a better look at what is encased in the rumpled mass of sandstone.
"This is the fourth dinosaur mummy that's ever been found in the world of any significance," said Stephen Begin, a Michigan consultant on the project.
"It may turn out to be one of the best mummies, because of the quality of the skin that we're finding and the extent of the skin that's on the specimen," he said.
67 Million Years Later
Dakota was moved to the museum early last month and is currently surrounded by precariously perched desk lamps and a machine to suck up dust. State paleontologist John Hoganson, of the North Dakota Geological Survey, said it will take a year, maybe more, to uncover it.
Amy Sakariassen, part of the team working on the project, was toiling away with a brush whose bristles had been ground down to nubs.
"It really is wonderful to work on it," she said, as Begin, the Michigan consultant, used a sharp instrument to pick away tiny bits of rock and unveil a scale.
"Nobody's seen that particular scale in 67 million years. It's quite thrilling," she said.
Manning said his involvement has meant 18-hour days, seven-day weeks and "more work than I could have ever imagined. But I would not change a single second of the past few years."
Hoganson said the main part of the fossil is in two parts, weighing a total of nearly 5 tons.
"The skeleton itself is kind of curled up," he said. "The actual length would be about 30 feet (9 meters), from about the tip of its tail to the tip of its nose."
The fossil has spawned both a children's book and an adult book, as well as National Geographic television programs. The National Geographic Society is funding much of the research.
(The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
"We are looking forward to seeing what emerges from the huge dinosaur body block now housed in North Dakota," said John Francis, a society vice president.
Many prehistoric fossils have been found in the western North Dakota Badlands where terrain has been heavily eroded over time by weather. Hoganson said other treasures likely are waiting to be unearthed.
"It's one of the few places in the world where you can actually see the boundary line where the dinosaurs became extinct, the time boundary," he said. "In the Badlands, this layer is exposed in certain places."
Lyson, who found the fossil, eventually hopes to send it on a worldwide tour and then bring it back to his hometown of Marmarth, where he is creating a museum. For now, workers at the North Dakota Heritage Center on the state Capitol grounds are getting part of it ready for display this summer.
Free Email News Updates
Sign up for our Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top stories and pictures (see sample).