Dinosaur Name:   Acrocanthosaurus
Pronunciation:   (ACK-roh-KAN-thuh-SAWR-us)
Name Meaning:   High spine lizard
When it lived:   110 million years ago, Early Cretaceous Period
Location of Dig:   Parker County

   Having a barbeque in Texas not unusual, but a barbecue commemorating the excavation of dinosaur remains on the hosts’ property is a different story. Nonetheless, such a celebration did occur at Doss Ranch in Weatherford, Texas, during the fall of 1991. James and Dorothy Doss invited their neighboring ranchers as well as the team that spearheaded the two-year dig. This team included Jim Diffily, curator of the Fort Worth Science of Museum and History, along with his colleagues Louis Jacobs, Ph.D. and Dale Winkler, Ph.D., from the Shuler Museum of Paleontology at Southern Methodist University. It was then that the team met rancher Phillip Hobson, and a new path was exposed for the Museum’s journey of discovery.

   Phillip, who owned a ranch fewer than 10 miles from the Doss property, struck up a conversation with Louis and Dale. He revealed that, as a matter of fact, he had dinosaur remains on his property, too. The two took the claim seriously and made the initial visit to Hobson Ranch. There Phillip led them to a deep ravine containing several large, sandstone boulders. On the surface of these boulders, Louis and Dale could clearly see dinosaur bones. A new excavation was on the horizon for SMU and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

   When the dig began in the spring of 1992, the team was faced with the challenge of retrieving bones from multi-ton boulders measuring six to eight feet in diameter. Working on these boulders in a ravine seemed impractical. It was obvious that the approach used at the Doss Ranch dig would not work here. Instead, the plan was to dig around the boulders and lift them slightly with the same type jacks used to raise house foundations. Then, each boulder would be plucked from the ravine using a crane, before being placed in a nearby field.

   The next challenge was to break open the boulders. To conquer the first boulder, the team tried to split it with chisels. Well, the boulder split all right, but it also scared them half to death. Fortunately, the break occurred along two thigh bones, so there was no damage to the specimen. Nonetheless, that wasn’t a chance the team wanted to take again. 

   Moving on to plan B, each boulder was transported one by one to the Shuler Museum of Paleontology lab.  There, the team used diamond sawblades to slice and chip away at the incredibly hard sandstone. What remained were the bones of the second complete Acrocanthosaurus specimen ever found. The same species of carnivorous, or meat-eating, dinosaur was found years earlier in Atoka County, Oklahoma.

   This dinosaur was the sharp-clawed terror of the Early Cretaceous Period. As the top carnivore, it likely preyed on whatever it could catch or scavenge.

   The Hobson Ranch Acrocanthosaurus is not currently on display at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. Why? It’s 35-feet long and taller than the ceilings in the exhibit hall. Nonetheless, this is an important story to share with you, and the lessons we learned from this dig have carried with us to other excavations.

Photo Album:
View photos of the Hobson Ranch excavation at a larger scale.


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