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Digging dino with homemade fossil finder

Utah man's invention helps locate bones

An expanded Web version of segments seen on CNN

jones June 12, 1997
Web posted at: 11:02 a.m. EDT (1502 GMT)

In this story:

From Correspondent Marsha Walton

NEAR PRICE, Utah (CNN) -- The hunt for dinosaur remains is a little easier now, thanks to Ray Jones and his homemade fossil-finder. The device, which clicks like a Geiger counter as it uncovers bones hidden for millions of years, tells fossil-hunters where to dig.

"I'd just say 'dig here' ... and they would find bone," said Jones, an amateur inventor who works at a radiation analyst at the University of Utah's Radiological Health Department.

When Jones first suggested his machine could pinpoint dinosaur bones, paleontologists -- scientists specializing in prehistoric life forms -- were skeptical, he recalls.

The reaction now is praise. Paleontologist Don Burge says the device is responsible for two discoveries.

movie iconWeb exclusive
Paleontologist Don Burge talks about new dinosaur discoveries.
 (611K/14 sec. QuickTime movie)

"It worked. He (Jones) converted us," agrees John Bird, a fossil preparator from the College of Eastern Utah.    icon  (149K/11 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

What it is


The invention, placed on a handcart and pushed like a lawn mower, is called a scintillation counter -- an instrument that, like a Geiger counter, detects and measures radiation. In this case, it's radiation from Utah's rich uranium deposits.

Dinosaur bones act as radiation magnets, "sucking in these uranium ions" and giving the bones a higher concentration of uranium than the surrounding soil, Jones says.

Scientists trying to apply the same principles to similar fossil-finding devices have failed. But Jones was successful, using his experience as a radiology technician on a nuclear submarine and his interest in fossil hunting to build the device by himself.

How it works


As the fossil-finder measures radiation, it maps "hot spots" on a grid. After filtering out background radiation, Jones' wife, Carole, charts readings that enable paleontologists to know the right spot to start digging.

And what they find are not just any bones. The discoveries of the plant-eating nodosaur and the duck-billed hadrosaur help researchers fill in gaping holes between the days when the brontosaurus hung out, 150 million years ago, and the days of T-rex and the triceratops, perhaps 70 million years ago.   icon  (66K/5 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

"Virtually every bone we find comes from a new dinosaur," Burge says.

Compared to the dinosaurs in a Steven Spielberg movie, the Utah discoveries might not look like much. But the Joneses aren't complaining.

Just as these Cretaceous era dinosaurs left their mark, Ray and Carole Jones will leave theirs. The "new" nodosaur will be named after Ray, the hadrosaur after Carole.


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