Williams, Ariz. (AP) – One way to help explain how Tyrannosaurus rex digested food is to look at…

Williams, Ariz.

A piece of fossilized bone in a new museum in northern Arizona — aptly called a possum — is among the smallest evidence that indicates T. rex wasn’t much of a chewer, but It had swallowed whole pieces of prey.

The artifact is one of more than 7,000 exhibits that opened at the museum in May in Williams, a town along Route 66 for Wild West shows, wildlife attractions and the railroad to Grand Canyon National Park. known as.

The possum sign features a bright green T. rex cartoon character sitting on a toilet to distract from the blaring neon lights and 1950’s sleazy music emanating from other businesses.

Inside, display cases filled with coprolites — the fossilized droppings of animals that lived millions of years ago — line the walls. They range in size from a tiny termite drop to a large specimen weighing 20 pounds (9 kg).

George Frandsen, president and curator of Posium, bought his first piece of fossilized waste from a store in Moab, Utah, when he was 18 years old. He already loved dinosaurs and fossils but had never heard of fossilized poop. From there, his attraction grew.

“That was a job. It was gross,” he said. “But I learned very quickly that it can tell us a lot about our prehistoric past and how important they are to the fossil record.”

Coprolites aren’t very common, but they can make up the majority of fossils found in some places, and people have learned more about them in the past few decades, said Anthony Fiorello, executive director of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. . science.

They can be difficult to identify and in some cases, specimens that appear to be coprolites – with their pinched ends and striations – are further examined and eventually reclassified as something else. went.

“There are many sedimentation processes that can remove soft mud into a different layer,” he said. “So think about your toothpaste, for example. When you squeeze it, there might be some spots on that toothpaste.”

Fossil enthusiast Brandi Reynolds recently visited the museum with her husband after it turned out to be a short detour from a road trip they had planned.

“I mostly get sharp teeth and things like that,” he said. “I didn’t really get the coprolites all the way through, but who doesn’t love coprolites?”

A highlight of the Frandsen collection is a specimen that holds the Guinness World Record for being the largest coprolite left by a carnivore. Measuring more than 2 feet (61 cm) long and more than 6 inches (15 cm) wide, Frandsen said it is believed to be from a T. rex, noting that it was discovered in 2019 in South Dakota. I was found in a private field.

Frandsen also holds the record for the largest certified coprolite collection of 1,277 pieces, which was acquired in 2015 when it was authenticated at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Florida.

His collection now stands at around 8000 specimens. He doesn’t have the room to display it all at Williams’ museum and features some online.

There’s no need to worry about any odors or germs, Frandsen said. They evaporated millions of years ago, when the wastes were covered by sediments and replaced by minerals, which hardened them into rock.

Fiorello said the location, shape, size and other materials such as bones or plants can determine whether an object is a coprolite, but not necessarily what creature deposited it.

“I think the majority of us would say, let’s put the brakes on that and just be happy if we can define carnivores, herbivores, and then within each of those broad groups potentially those to see food cycles,” said Fiorello, a trained paleontologist and author of books on dinosaur paleontologists.

Ideally, Fiorello said, he hopes fossils that are rare and can add to the understanding of the prehistoric world can find their way into the public domain so that researchers can use them because they reveal so much about life. Form the first hypothesis.

Like Frandsen, Fiorello said he was fascinated by fossils when he was young. He pointed to private quarries in Wyoming’s Fossil Basin where the public can hunt for fossilized fish, plants and even coprolites. People can also visit a research mine to learn about paleontology at nearby Fossil Butte National Monument.

If a kid goes home inspired after finding a fossil or seeing it on display at a museum, that’s great, Fiorello said.

“Maybe they will be the next generation,” he said.

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