Raptorex, Newest Dinosaur Fossil Discovery, Seen in Newport

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Dr. Paul Sereno in Newport with Raptorex model

Dr. Paul Sereno, the famed American paleontologist associated with the University of Chicago, brought his Indiana Jones persona and a replica and bones of Raptorex, his newest species discovery originally from Inner Mongolia, to Newport recently. The 9-foot dinosaur, whose fossil surfaced in northeastern China, had evolved all the hallmark anatomical features of Tyrannosaurus rex at least 125 million years ago. With five co-authors,  Sereno  describes the newly discovered dinosaur in the Sept. 17 Science Express, advanced online edition of the journal Science.

Weighing as little as 1/100th that of its descendant T. rex, 125-million year old Raptorex shows off the distinctive body plan of this most dominant line of predatory dinosaurs.   Drawing by Todd Marshall.




Tyrannosaurus rex grew to 100 times the size of the earlier Raptorex. “It’s unknown why the dinosaur species became so gigantic,” the engaging and passionate Sereno told Newport Seen in a Colonial home on Historic Hill, “but Raptorex dates back to the early pre-cretaceous period.”

The paleontolgist with a Raptorex skull model


He is quick to point out that he did not make the discovery on a dig, but came by the specimen in China. Henry Kriegstein, a private fossil collector, brought the nearly complete Raptorex skeleton to Sereno’s attention after buying it from a vendor . After Sereno and colleagues finish a more detailed study of the fossil, it will be returned to a museum in Inner Mongolia, the place where the fossil was illicitly excavated.

University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno adds the toe claw to a well preserved skeleton of the new tyrannosaur Raptorex.  Photo by Mike Hettwer.



On August 14th 2008, it was revealed that Sereno had uncovered a large Stone Age cemetery in Sahara, and together with a team of archaeologists had worked on it for eight years.  “ We had never before found people burials from the green period in the Sahara,  This one contained three people, perfectly posed," he said. For Newport Seen, he displayed an exact replica of the necklace found on the woman, a sign of honor.

The skull of Raptorex is dwarfed by the skull of “Sue,” the famous adult T. rex at the Field Museum.  Photo by Paul Sereno.




Working with Sereno on the expedition to the Gobero Desert in 2006 was Newport resident and expedition supporter Elizabeth Meyer, at whose home he was a houseguest. He was fascinated with Newport, and finds a parallel between the restoration of old ships, the work done at IYRS, and the reconstruction of fossils.  Ms. Meyer is a serious sailor. "Old skeletons," he said

Sculptors add skin, scales and rudimentary feathers to a cast of the nearly complete skull of the new tyrannosaur Raptorex.  Photo by Mike Hettwer.




        Raptorex shows that tyrannosaur design evolved at “punk size,” said Sereno, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, “basically our bodyweight. And that’s pretty staggering, because there’s no other example that I can think of where an animal has been so finely designed at about 100th the size that it would eventually become.”

The actual fossil of Raptorex's maxilla


"Raptorex displays all the hallmarks of its famous descendant, Tyrannosaurus rex, including a large head compared to its torso, tiny arms and lanky feet well-suited for running,"  Sereno said. The Raptorex brain cast also displayed enlarged olfactory bulbs—as in T. rex—indicating a highly developed sense of smell.


The two-fingered forelimb of an adult T. rex is compared to the very similar 8-inch forelimb of Raptorex.  Photo by Mike Hettwer.


“It’s really stolen from tyrannosaurids all the fire of the group,” Sereno said. All that Raptorex left for its descendants is “a suite of detailed features largely related to getting bigger.”


Sereno’s Raptorex skeleton

The tyrannosaur body type, which sized up 90 million years ago, completely dominated the predatory eco-niche in both Asia and North America until the great extinction 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous Period.

At only 9 feet in length, Raptorex already had the powerful jaws, puny arms, and quick legs of its much larger and more famous descendants.  Drawing by Todd Marshall.



For further information  see “Tyrannosaurid Skeletal Design First Evolved at Small Body Size,” early online edition of Science, Sept. 17, 2009. On TV Raptorex will appear in the world premiere special “Bizarre Dinos”, on the National Geographic Channel at 8 p.m. ET/PT Sunday, Oct. 11.

Dr. Paul Sereno was named one of People magazine's “50 Most Beautiful People” in 1997.


University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno sits between skull and flesh model of the 125-million year old tyrannosaur Raptorex.


















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