Dig produces rare fossil find

May 5, 2008 4:47:15 PM PDT
A Dimetrodon skull found recently in Seymour, northwest of Fort Worth will be on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, but we've got an exclusive first look.The discovery is a big deal because Dimetrodons predate ordinary dinosaurs by a mere 200 million years or so. They slowly moved across the earth long before there were dinosaurs, frogs or even flowers.

Up in a tiny north Texas town called Seymour scientists have been searching for their bones for years. They've found several, but what they stumbled upon a couple of weeks ago is one of the most important fossil discoveries yet.

In Dr. Robert Bakker's paleontology lab animals who died hundreds of millions of years ago take on new life.

"This is the beginning of our own evolution," Dr. Bakker explained. "This is the Texas Redbeds Finback Dimetrodon."

The ground-breaking paleontologist hopes one day school kids touring the Houston Museum of Natural Science can see Dimetrodon specimen up close. But discovering the fossils and piecing them together takes years.

An excavation site in Seymour, Texas is fertile with Dimetrodon fossils. During a recent dig, Bakker's specimen project took a giant leap forward.

It happened during Doe Florsheim's family spring break trip. The wife of KTRK's general manager Henry Florsheim won the chance to go on the dig. The whole family spent the week searching for fossils.

"I did nothing more than follow direction, as did all the members of the family," Doe recalled. "We were kind of all lined up."

After a couple of days, part of the Dimetrodon fossil began to emerge. Dr. Bakker first identified it as a pelvis, or what he jokingly calls a 'paleo-tuchus.' That is, until one of the volunteers pointed out the pelvis had a problem.

"He said, 'It's grown a row of teeth,'" Dr. Bakker recalled.

After taking a closer look, Bakker realized he was actually looking at a Dimetrodon's jaw and skull.

"The skull is where the brain is and the jaw muscles and the teeth and the sense of smell and the eyesight," said Dr. Bakker. "That's the best end to find."

Doe said, "You begin to see the animal you were looking for. It's pretty exciting."

Now that Dr. Bakker has the jaw in his lab, he's carefully chipping away the hard clay that covers the delicate fossil, thrilled he's a step closer to sharing the ancient animal that's captivated him with the rest of Houston.

The Dimetrodon model they are building will be named Lydia. She won't go on display for several more years when the museum builds its new paleontology wing.

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