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Fossil feuding

Geoscientist James Carter, left, and a colleague scope out the alamosaurus' large neck bones  

Large dinosaur's discovery in Texas pits scientists against tourist-boosting locals

June 12, 2000
Web posted at: 7:28 p.m. EST (2328 GMT)

In this story:

Remember the alamosaurus
Science vs. sightseeing

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BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, Texas (CNN) -- Between the grip of the locals and the grasp of the scientists lie what might be the bones of the largest dinosaur ever found in North America.

Paleontologists who found the neck bones want to excavate and study them in a lab. But nearby residents want them to remain in the ground as a tourist attraction.


Geoscientist James Carter found the 65 million-year-old skeletal remains of an alamosaurus in Big Bend National Park, a vast and rugged stretch of desert and mountains straddling the Rio Grande River along the Mexican border.

"This is a very unique bone that has never been found before," Carter said of the find, which includes 10 vertebrae, stretching almost 23 feet.

Remember the alamosaurus

The discovery raises questions about how long the animals existed.

These giant dinosaurs were thought to have died out 100 million years before the animal lived, said Carter, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Three vertebrae were taken to a university lab, where researchers chipped away dirt and reassembled the bones. Based on the neck bones, Carter figures the specimen was massive. Scientists are not sure what the dinosaur looked like, but it probably resembled sauropods, leaf eaters with long curving necks and giant thick bodies.

The alamosaurus is believed to be even bigger, 100 feet long and 30 feet tall. Carter would like to dig up the other vertebrae, which some Big Bend residents oppose.

The National Park Service said it will decide what to do with the fossils by late summer.

Science vs. sightseeing

Jan Forte, co-owner of Big Bend River Tours in nearby Lajitas, accuses the National Park Service of "grave robbing" on protected federal land, where removing a single pebble is prohibited.

"Why not leave it in its natural environment, build a display and let people come from all over the world to see this magnificent creature," Forte said. Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, for example, exhibits hundreds of dinosaur fossils in this manner.

At the Dinosaur National Monument some bones have been shipped to museums. But this federal park also features more than 1,500 fossil bones on view behind a large glass-walled building. During summer months, tourists can observe paleontologists, scientists who study the prehistoric era, unearthing more fossils.

Scientists said such a display at Big Bend would leave many mysteries.

"What did it look like? How did it live? How's it related to other dinosaurs?" said Don Corrick, a National Park Service archaeologist. "We won't be able to answer any of those questions if it just lays out there in the desert and slowly erodes away."

Dinosaur National Monument
Alamosaurus information
Texas parks and Alamosaurus
Last of the giants

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