Looks like we went to Washington, DC, a year too early. Next year, the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History will open an exhibit titled, “Putting Dinosaurs in Their Place,” and will feature fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex feces. Actually, the real sample, called coprolite (a.k.a. fossilized dung), is so precious that the Royal Saskatchewan Museum is sending a replica to the Smithsonian to display. About a foot long, the sample was found in Saskatchewan and dates to about 5 million years ago.
Just like scientists study animal dropping in modern times, the fossil contains lots of information about the eating habits and digestive system of the T. rex that produced it. Jagged bone fragments in the dung confirm that Tyrannosaurus rex was a carnivore. The condition of those fragments are intact enough to indicate that the prey – likely a small, young dinosaur – was digested and, um, passed within a short time.
Scheduled to open sometimes in 2014, the Smithsonian exhibit will also include the museum’s resident triceratops skeleton, known as “Hatcher,” a Tyrannosaurus skull, more fossils from the same ecosystem as “Hatcher,” and a lab where museum goers can watch researchers examine and prepare fossils for display.
For more fossil related fun, check out Barnas Monteith’s The Furious Case of the Fraudulent Fossil – it’s a great summer read.