Funds to restore, move fossil pending

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The Texas Natural Science Center will restore a 112-million-year-old deteriorating dinosaur tracks fossil before moving it to the Texas Memorial Museum.

The tracks, which have been at UT since 1941, are currently on a slab of mortar inside of a non-climate controlled building made specifically for the tracks.

The sauropod tracks in the slab are important because they are the standard to which other similar tracks are scientifically compared, said Pamela Owen, senior paleontology educator at the Texas Memorial Museum.

“The track slab will be treated and then placed in the Hall of Geology and Paleontology in the Texas Memorial Museum, which is climate controlled,” Owen said. “The new exhibit will also improve public viewing of the tracks.”

The slab must be disassembled and taken out the front of the building. It will then be taken for treatment and conservation before being brought into the museum. The slab is extremely heavy and must be handled with great care, Owen said.

Texas Memorial Museum director Ed Theriot said the conservation work should take 12 to 24 months.

“There certainly has been a lot of deterioration,” Theriot said. “Particularly, there has been a loss of surface detail. There has been some chemical decomposition of the stone. The whole thing is not turning to dust — it’s still quite solid — but with time, stones under certain conditions can undergo chemical deterioration.”

The museum has not yet raised the $1 million it requires to move the tracks.

“So far the University has contributed roughly $200,000 toward this conservation study,” Theriot said. “Unfortunately, we began this campaign just about the time that the economic downturn began and we’ve had to proceed slowly. It’s not a simple matter to raise a million dollars under any circumstances.”

Christina Cid, the director of education at the Texas Memorial Museum, said the dinosaur tracks will help with teacher training and education for kids who can learn what dinosaur tracks say about animal behavior.

“The tracks will give us increased opportunities for programming,” Cid said. “I think it will also give visitors renewed interest in coming to the museum.”

She said the current location does not provide visitors with optimal viewing.

“The tracks are hard to see where they’re currently located,” Cid said. “Getting them inside, especially the way we are planning to display them, will give people the opportunity to see them in a whole different way. It will be an exciting time to bring additional visitors into the museum.”