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female. Somehow, she had been killed with her family. He em-
barked on a project to see what the differences between the
sexes were in other dinosaur species of which far more examples
had been found, and whose sex has been determined. In many
cases the females were the larger, so the very size of  Sue could
in fact indicate that she was a female. Among humans, the male
is generally larger, but there are many exceptions to that rule
among other species.
In addition, Larson hoped that  Sue would shed some light
on the long, bitter debate about whether dinosaurs were warm-
blooded or cold-blooded animals. There were also questions
about brain size to be dealt with. NASA was persuaded to carry
out a CAT scan of the skull, and preparations were made to ship
it to Huntsville, Alabama, on May 17, 1992. But on April 29, the
Rapid City Journal carried a headline revealing that the Sioux tribe
Maurice Williams was associated with had filed suit to regain
 Sue. On May 14, the FBI, backed up by the National Guard,
raided the Black Hills Institute and prepared to haul  Sue away.
The resulting mess is too complex to report on in any detail
here. Steve Fiffer spends more than half his book, Tyrannosaurus
Sue, dealing with the ins and outs of this much-publicized case,
which turned into what many saw as a trumped-up vendetta
against Larson himself. Several prominent figures in the academic
and museum worlds who knew Larson took his side, citing the
great care taken in the fossil lab at the Black Hills Institute, and
the meticulous notes that were kept there. They called him a sci-
entist. Others lumped him in with fossil hunters whom they
regarded as little better than thieves, people who did a sloppy
job of excavating and then sold their fossils to collectors, often
foreign, thus preventing proper study by professionals. Robert
Bakker, one of the country s foremost paleontologists (a leader
among those who believe that dinosaurs were warm-blooded,
like birds, rather than cold-blooded, like lizards), told Steve Fiffer
Susan Hendrickson 195
that he had originally been suspicious of Larson but had changed
his mind once he saw the lab at the institute.  We stiff Ph.D.s,
he said,  speaking in Latin, wearing elbow pads, criticize the
Larsons for not having degrees, but their research is better
than ours.
There has always been a degree of tension between the
academics and the field workers in paleontology. In the mid-
nineteenth century, when interest in extinct animals first took
hold, the vast majority of those who dug up the bones were
amateurs. It was professionals like Richard Owen who became
famous, however, because they did the subsequent scientific
work that led to the classification and naming of extinct species.
The great rivalry in America between Edward Drinker Cope and
O. C. Marsh was further fueled by the fact that Cope did a lot of
field work, while Marsh did very little. Both, in fact, hired many
amateurs to search for fossils. Barnum Brown had considerable
education, although not an advanced degree. It was field work
that he loved, and he had a nose for fossils, a sixth sense like Sue
Hendrickson s, that made him the most successful fossil hunter
of his time.
Being a dinosaur hunter is akin to being a comet hunter, like
David Levy (chapter 2). Levy is simply better at spotting comets
than most professional astronomers, and the professionals have
their hands full with work that absolutely requires an advanced
degree. In terms of dinosaur hunting, the logistics and expense
of mounting a major expedition, like the one Michael Novacek
led for the American Museum of Natural History to the Gobi
Desert, inhibit the number of such efforts. They take money
away from other museum priorities. The so-called amateurs like
Peter Larson operate on a shoestring. He lived in a trailer next
to the institute, and it was little wonder that there were prob-
lems with the collecting truck on the day Hendrickson discov-
ered  Sue : the vehicle was fifteen years old. Larson certainly
wasn t getting rich from his work.
196 It Doesn t Take a Rocket Scientist
Most professional paleontologists wouldn t regard someone
like Sue Hendrickson as a scientist at all, and she doesn t see her-
self as one, either not exactly. She does know that she has a
knack for finding things, important things that advance scientific
knowledge in many cases, an instinct that is rare across the
board, whether you are talking about amateurs or professionals.
She doesn t think a degree would make her better at it. Indeed,
she can give the impression that she suspects it might be inhibit-
ing. She doesn t have to come up with results to justify the
expenses of a museum-sponsored expedition. What s more, such
expeditions go by the book you don t go wandering off with
your dog in the Badlands just because you have a hunch. As to
the matter of knowledge, Hendrickson is capable of absorbing
enormous amounts of new information very quickly. She was
sure she had found a T. rex embedded in the sandstone cliff on
Maurice Williams s ranch because she knew that the vertebrae
of a T. rex were articulated in a particular way. That kind of
knowledge can be acquired by anyone with a fine mind it
doesn t have to happen in a classroom.  Academics are snobs,
she has said. Yet there are many academics like Robert Bakker
who salute her. They know she has something extra, and that
she doesn t care about credit, just the thrill of the find and the
opportunity to add a little something to the accumulated knowl-
edge of humankind about the vast mysteries of the natural
Sue Hendrickson has been asked,  How do you do it? all
her adult life, about rare fish, amber, and certainly about  Sue.
She knows what the press wants to hear, and she isn t comfort-
able with the idea of a sixth sense per se. Nor does she see her-
self as blessed with some curious form of luck.  I don t believe
in fate, she has said. Between the lines, one senses that the
answer she would like to give is,  I can find things because I m
Sue Hendrickson, but that would sound self-important, and she
is not that kind of person.
Susan Hendrickson 197
It is widely agreed that if Hendrickson had not found  Sue
that day, the specimen might never have been found, or at least
not for decades, by which time it would have been weathered to
the point that it would be much less complete. The cliff was
located in badlands, not grazing area. Even Maurice Williams
hadn t been near the cliff in years. What s more, unless someone
knew how to look, the fossil could have gone unnoticed. Nestled
among undulating weathered rock, it was not easy to see. You
had to know to look for the dribbled-down bones at the base of
the cliff. In addition, other fossil hunters might have ignored the
area for a long time.  The Larsons have already been there,
they d say.
Nevertheless, there were those in the academic world who
had it in for amateur fossil hunters of all kinds, and they egged
on the prosecution in the case that was built against Peter Lar-
son and his associates. The residents of Hill City, where the
Black Hills Institute was located, including its mayor, backed
Larson to the hilt. There were charges that the prosecuting
attorney was using the case to further his own political ambi-
tions a common enough suspicion in many cases of many
kinds. Peter Larson, Neal Larson, Terry Wentz, and three other
associates were indicted on the day before Thanksgiving, 1993.
There were 148 alleged felonies and 6 misdemeanors, ranging
from conspiracy to money laundering and interstate transporta-
tion of stolen goods. In a chapter titled  You Can Indict a Ham
Sandwich, Fiffer notes,  If convicted of all crimes, Peter Larson
faced up to 353 years in prison and $13.35 million in fines.
The trial lasted seven weeks during early 1995, and the jury
debated for two weeks. In the end, Peter Larson was convicted [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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