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Duo digs up dino dung, dandy data

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An article from a high class magazine like National Geographic isn't what Rusty Saber readers expect as a topic source. My wife, who is much more high class than I, devours each issue cover to cover. I'm a bit more selective, reading only stories that grab my attention. A short article in the April issue not only grabbed me, it cried out for special Rusty Saber Treatment.

So be it. National Geographic reports that Timothy Tokaryk and Wendy Slobodka, of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, are hard at work studying in detail a "treasure" Ms. Slobodka found in Saskatchewan while taking part in a project that was sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The treasure try to control yourselves, folks, this is serious stuff that has them agog is a huge hunk of, well, er, I might as well say it, the treasure was dung. That's right, dung! Not just any pile of dung, mind you, it was dinosaur dung.

Specifically, Tyrannosaurus Rex deposited it after digesting a meal consisting of an entire plant-eating dinosaur the size of a cow.

Apparently, this T. Rex bequeathed his legacy 65 million years ago. Don't ask me how they know its age. I presume there must be some sort of dung dating process. How else would they know how old a pile of dung might be?

National Geographic's headline used to attract readers to this half page story reads: Dino Dung Reveals New Data. Had I written it, I'd have said, Duo Digs Up Decrepit Dino Dung Dispersing Dandy Data.

Well, anyway, in the body of the story, T. Rex's gift to science was referred to as "coprolite." Even my computer had never heard of the word. Finally, I found it in the third dictionary in which I looked.

National Geographic had it right. Coprolite means "petrified excrement of an animal." (Not petrified as in frightened, but as in really old and dried up.) The dictionary even defines the act of coprology as the "gathering of excrement."

Although not in the dictionary, I presume one who studies the petrified gathered stuff must be called a coprologist. (If a coprologist were to attend his high school class reunion, when bragging to his boyhood pals, what does he tell them he does for a living?)

It's clear, if you want a bumper sticker to make a certain statement, but not appear too gross, it should be a "Coprolite Happens" sticker.

T. Rex was believed to be the author of the, er, ah, coprolite because his type of dinosaur grew to be 40 feet long. No other carnivore ever found in this region was large enough to leave a pile like that. Who else but the mighty T. Rex could have eaten in one sitting and left behind the remains of a critter the size of a cow?

After 65 million years, this coprolite measured 17 inches long, 6 inches wide, and 5 inches high, more than twice as large as any carnivorous dinosaur coprolite ever found. Be still, my heart.

Besides finding the biggest pile of dino doo in captivity, scientists have gone through the, er, stuff, and have learned that these fearsome dinosaurs didn't swallow their prey whole as do snakes, which scientists previously believed.

While sifting through their find, the scientists came upon crushed bones, verifying that T. Rex crushed his prey before eating. I guess that's an important thing to know. It would be terribly important if T. Rex were still around. Otherwise, on a scale of 1 to 10, how big a deal is it?

There's a photograph of Tokaryk examining the coprolite. I must say, as piles of coprolite go, it's impressive. Tokaryk appears to be doing what I suppose coprologists do, digging through it with his hands.

Since I have a couple of university research degrees, my natural curiosity is piqued: What do you suppose Tokaryk said to his wife when he got home the day the photo was taken?

Having spent his workday digging around in dino doo, what's his answer when his wife asks, "How was your day, honey?" Does he say: " Guess what? My picture is going to be in National Geographic."

When she asks what he was doing in the photo, what does he say? Feel free to write in your own answer. Use your imagination. If she's well aware of what he does for a living, and is an understanding wife, maybe she doesn't ask any questions.

Instead, she'll greet him with: "Hi, honey. Dinner is ready. Wash your hands really well, and then we'll eat."

(Joe McAdoo is former chairman of the communication department at Drury College and a Springfield public relations consultant.)

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