Deep within the earth, Philip Currie found the 70-million-year-old clue that has helped him begin to unlock some of the mysteries surrounding the Tyrannosaurus rex - not in the canyons of the West, but in a rat-infested basement in New York.
What Mr. Currie found in the bowels of the American Museum of Natural History has led to the rediscovery of an important cache of dinosaur bones uncovered almost a century ago - and then lost.
Two weeks ago, Currie, head of the research program at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, announced that he had found the missing bones in the museum basement and had rediscovered the excavation site in Alberta. The seminal discovery has already shed new light on the way T-rexes lived and interacted, and it will doubtless give rise to debate on the meaning of the findings. But the story behind how Currie found the bones has gained almost as much attention as the bones themselves.
There had long been rumors that the American paleontologist Barnum Brown, working for the American Museum of Natural History, had discovered an important cache of the rarely found Tyrannosaurus rex near here in 1910. At least half of the museum's collection came from the remote area around Drumheller - considered the world's most concentrated source of fossil deposits - but no written record of the site's exact location existed.
Several months ago, when Currie was rummaging through the museum's archives - more than 2,300 miles away in New York - he came upon a key clue in the rediscovery of the long-lost bone site. There, in a specimen drawer, he found the bones for the complete foot of an Albertosaur - the massive older cousin of the T-rex. Realizing that he had found the fossils unearthed by Brown in Alberta 87 years earlier, he searched for a further clue, something to help him locate the site.