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After 75 million years, dinosaur 'speaks'

December 5, 1997
Web posted at: 4:08 p.m. EST (2108 GMT)

(CNN) -- Scientists in New Mexico have created a sound that hasn't been heard in 75 million years: the low-pitched roar of the parasaurolophus dinosaur. They did so using a four-and-a-half foot fossil of a dinosaur skull, a hospital CT scan, and a supercomputer.

The parasaurolophus was a swamp-dwelling plant-eater which lived during the late Cretaceous Period. The discovery of a near-perfect parasaurolophus skull, unearthed in northwest New Mexico in 1995, made it possible for scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science to begin studying dinosaur vocalization.

Scientific recreation of a dinosaur sound
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716K/19 sec. QuickTime Movie
165K/15 sec. AIFF or WAV audio

The parasaurolophus had a bony tubular crest that extended back toward its body from the top of its head. Scientists had believed the crest may have contained a maze of air passages that could have been used to produce sounds.

The skull, found near Farmington, confirmed their beliefs. It lacked only a segment below the eyes, making it the second-most complete parasaurolophus skull found to date. Common sense and imagination helped scientists create the missing beak and nostrils, and also soft tissues of the head and throat that were not fossilized.


The skull was taken to a hospital in Albuquerque, where it underwent a series of about 350 CT scans at 3-millimeter intervals. The results were used to create a three-dimensional computer model.

The size and shape of the skull, and of the air passages inside the crest, helped the researchers approximate what kind of tones may have been emitted from the bony structure.

Scientists are not sure whether the parasaurolophus had vocal cords, so, using the supercomputer, they simulated sounds the dinosaur may have produced both with and without vocal cords.

Reporter Rick Lockridge contributed to this report.


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