In Alaska, Perot Museum's paleontology curator searches for fossils

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by MEAGAN HARRIS

WFAA

Posted on July 29, 2013 at 5:35 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 2 at 5:32 PM

In 2006, Anthony Fiorillo traversed miles of jagged Arctic terrain to find fossils that were embedded in the side of a cliff. Those are now housed at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, where Dr. Fiorillo works as curator of paleontology. 

In that search, which was chronicled by the PBS show Nova, Fiorillo came away with a Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum, a new species of horned dinosaur that lived 70 million years ago. In 2001, he excavated the largest dinosaur in the Perot in the Big Bend area. A single vertebrate from its neck weighed 800 pounds. It was paired with other bones to create the full skeleton. 

This summer, Fiorillo and his crew are back in Alaska where they hope to find more fossils to study back in Dallas. 

“The big discovery this year is that we’ve found a couple tracks of an animal that we have not seen here before,” he said from basecamp in Denali via Skype. “That was pretty slick.” 

But sometimes, the logistics of the hike and the sheer weight of the specimens can make retrieving the fossils difficult. For instance, remnants of the horned dinosaur Fiorillo found in 2006 were embedded in the side of a cliff. 

"Most of them are attached to multi-ton boulders so we make a silicone mold using a compound that has an A and B and we get this pinkish mold," he said. "It cures and we pull it off and that's what we take back to the lab and make a cast off of that and study that."

To get to these, Fiorillo and his team take 14-mile round trip hikes. These were found in a valley along Sable Mountain. Shortly after speaking to News 8, the group took off in a helicopter to fly to Fang Mountain, a range due west from Denali. 

They expect to find even more fossils there. 

“It’s one of the best places on the planet to be doing some of this work,” Fiorillo said. “We’re really excited about where we’re going … a week from now, it could be a whole new ball game.” 

He’ll be sending News 8 video blogs of the fossil search, which are posted above this story. In one, Fiorillo shows how they make the mold of the fossils. In another, they come across a family of bears. They're posted above this story –– give them a watch and keep an eye on his journey.

Email mharris@wfaa.com

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