Larger than Life

By Tarciano Figueiredo

Everybody has heard of “Jane of the Jungle,” but for Mike Henderson and Bill Harrison, “Jane of Montana” has a nicer ring to it.

The duo helped to unveil Jane, the only complete young Tyrannosaurus rex in the world, in 2001.

The Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford debuted Jane June 29 in a $1.3-million exhibit .

Henderson, curator of earth sciences at the Burpee Museum and a doctorate student in geology, led the Montana expeditions that recovered the dinosaur.

“NIU has a tradition of producing dinosaur hunters,” Harrison said in an NIU press release. Harrison is a professor of foreign language who was one of the expedition members to first spot the fossils.

Jane lived 66 million years ago, during the twilight of the dinosaurs’ reign. She was a member of the tyrannosaurid family, which contained the largest land predators.

She was 22 feet tall and seven and a half feet wide at the hip. She weighed in at 1,500 pounds.

Henderson never expected to find a dinosaur of Jane’s size. He merely wanted fossils for the Burpee Museum, which opened a paleontology wing in 1999.

“A lot of what we had at the museum was cast material of dinosaurs,” Henderson said. “I think there’s something special about seeing the real thing.”

More than 10 faculty, students and alumni were among the museum volunteers who participated in the digs.

Harrison is packing to go back to Montana on an NIU-Burpee Museum expedition in search of dinosaurs.

“This will be my 14th trip back since we found Jane’s skeleton in the summer of 2001,” Harrison said.

Jane’s skeleton and the biota surrounding her have attracted the world’s top paleontologists to the Jane site and to the Burpee Museum.

Also, Jane has attracted government funding for NIU students and faculty to study all aspects of her world, Harrison said.

In celebration of Jane’s resurrection, NIU and the Burpee Museum will sponsor a symposium entitled “The Origin, Systematics, and Paleobiology of Tyrannosauridae” from Sept. 16-18.