More than 90 years ago the Sternberg family made a significant discovery of a mummified dinosaur and spent two and a half months excavating this rare jewel from the rough terrain of Wyoming.
Now, after nearly a century, the dinosaur returned to the Sternbergs through Fort Hays State University's Sternberg Museum of Natural History beginning the week of Aug. 5.
A cast of the fossil is on display at the museum until at least Sept. 3, although it could be extended to stay in the museum for three months pending a renewal contract with the owners of the dinosaur.
The discovery in 1910 was the second "mummified" dinosaur fossil ever collected. Both were collected by the Sternberg family. The first was sent to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, NY, and has been on display there ever since.
Both fossils belong to the hadrosaur group, which were common, plant-eating dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period of 144-65 million years ago.
Charles H. Sternberg, father of Charles M., George and Levi Sternberg, speculated in his memoir Hunting Dinosaurs In the Bad Lands of the Red Deer River, Alberta Canada, that "the dinosaur died in quicksand, which helped to preserve its contorted death pose as it fought to escape. The quick burial allowed much of the skin, especially on the chest and the legs, to be preserved in an inflated and lifelike position, labeled 'mummification.' "
Charles H. Sternberg was a fossil hunter for more than 70 years and discovered thousands of specimens. In 1876 he discovered the first Triceratops specimen and pioneered the technique of "jacketing" fossil bone in a protective cast.
The mummified dinosaur, the largest skeleton excavated by the Sternbergs, is one of the most scientifically important fossils ever discovered because it revealed much information about how dinosaurs looked and lived. It was the first skeleton to show the duck-like head of hadrosaurs.
Also because of the way the dinosaur was mummified, it showed the contents of the stomach, which included conifer needles, seeds and twigs and proved that hadrosaurs led a terrestrial lifestyle rather than aquatic.
The Sternbergs worked for several months to excavate and transport the specimen. It weighed nearly 10,000 pounds. After excavation, the mummy was taken from its remote location to railheads for its journey across the country and overseas to the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. This is where the original mummy display stands today.
The Sternberg mummy is on temporary loan from Glenn and Barb Rockers of PaleoSearch Inc., a local company that markets prehistoric animal reproductions. The museum is planning to begin fundraising in hopes of acquiring the mummy cast as a permanent exhibit.
"The dinosaur mummy is something extremely unique for our visitors to see and provides great educational value of how dinosaurs looked and lived," said Dr. Jerry Choate, professor of biological sciences and director of the museum.
For museum hours and ticket information, visit the Web site at www.fhsu.edu/sternberg/ or contact the museum by phone at (785) 628-4286.