March 23, 2009
For years, one of the cardinal sins of paleontology illustration was showing a Tyrannosaurus attacking a sauropod dinosaur. Most of the long-necked earthshakers had disappeared from North America by the time the most famous of carnivorous dinosaurs came along, and so any scene depicting them together could immediately be ruled inaccurate. Truth certainly is stranger than fiction, however, as a paper published in 2005 brought Tyrannosaurus and one of the last North American sauropods together.
In 1922, the paleontologist Charles Whitney Gilmore described the titanosaur Alamosaurus, named for the Ojo Alamo Formation in which it was found. (The same formation is known as the Kirtland Shale today.) It was a late-surviving sauropod genus that lived in the Late Cretaceous, long after the heyday of more famous genera like Apatosaurus and Diplodocus, but did it have reason to fear Tyrannosaurus?
That Alamosaurus and Tyrannosaurus met was certainly a possibility, but until recently there was no direct evidence to confirm it. That changed when paleontologists Scott Sampson and Mark Loewen published a 2005 paper documenting a partial Tyrannosaurus skeleton from the North Horn Formation. The site had already yielded Alamosaurus bones and so it clinched the connection between predator and prey. Fossils of hadrosaurs and horned dinosaurs had also been found in the area, so it appears that Tyrannosaurus would have had the opportunity to dine on a diverse array of herbivores.
I would have thought that the presence of Tyrannosaurus and Alamosaurus in the same place would have immediately set paleo-artists to work imagining scenes of clashes between the two. To the best of my knowledge, however, no such illustrations exist. I would give it a try, but as has been extablished, my talents lie outside the realm of art.
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