Those gnarly, hard-to classify chunks of bones that have been turned up from the Museums of Western Colorado's Mygatt-Moore Quarry might have a story to tell.
Many of those fossilized bits of bone might not fit into the familiar tales of life — and death — in the Jurassic Period, some 201 million to 145 million years ago, but they still could reveal much, under the right circumstances.
Dinosaur Journey museum in Fruita is planning to create just those circumstances with a $100,000 grant from the David B. Jones Foundation, which supports paleontology and paleontological education. The grant will fund a digitization lab and renovations to the museum auditorium.
Julia McHugh, curator of paleontology at Dinosaur Journey, and Stephanie Drumheller-Morton, paleontologist at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, hope to use the lab to take a look at the Jurassic from a unique angle.
Drumheller-Morton looks at Mygatt-Moore as a "Jurassic body farm, as it were," McHugh said.
Digital images of fossils could reveal what happened to them, particularly after death in a swampy environment that trapped allosaurs and ankylosaurs alike, as well as other dinosaurs.
Some of the "ugly" fossils — small chunks that retain few clues about even the body part they formed — could hold clues to how the animals died and what happened to them after death, such as whether they were crushed by predators, subjected to insect borings, battered against plant roots as water carried them along, or damaged in some other way, McHugh said.
"It's a totally different question" than just what kinds of animals they were from, McHugh said.
Much as visitors to the museum now can watch preparators clear away eons of rock to reveal bones, visitors will be able to watch through a plate-glass window the paleontological process of studying digital images of bone that has so far resisted shedding light on the original owner.
The digital images will be used to produce three-dimensional replicas of the rocks for additional study.
The lab will be on the third floor of Dinosaur Journey, above the existing preparatory lab.
"People can come up to the door and watch what's going on," McHugh said.
In addition to bringing high tech to paleontology, the grant will include workshops for teachers and a new exhibit.
The grant also includes money to turn the auditorium into a functional classroom, McHugh said.
McHugh hopes to have the new lab up and running as soon as March.