DATABASE: Where the Bones Are

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Science  26 Nov 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5701, pp. 1449
DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5701.1449b

Images of Tyrannosaurus rex might be everywhere, from TV shows to lunch boxes, but its bones have turned up at only a few locales around western North America. At the Paleobiology Database, visitors can find out where researchers have collected particular species or tackle broader questions about patterns in the fossil record.

The 5-year-old site, headed by paleontologist John Alroy of the University of California, Santa Barbara, lets you scan Alroy's and other experts' records of more than 43,000 fossil collections, dating back to more than 540 million years ago. Searching for a species returns a roster of collecting locales. Click on a particular one for a detailed profile that includes lists of other remains discovered there, descriptions of the strata, evaluations of how well the fossils had held up, and other information. You can also map the finds. Researchers can use the data to ask “big-picture questions” about the history of life—for example, tallying the diversity of ferns since the demise of the dinosaurs.

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