Hollywood summons for fossil hunter

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The Independent Online
A PHONE call from Steven Spielberg launched Jack Horner from the rarefied field of fossil collecting to the heights of Hollywood.

Dr Horner usually spends his time digging in the dirt of the badlands of Montana in the US, where he has found more dinosaur bones than anyone in history. But that phone call led him to spend the next couple of years acting as Spielberg's dinosaur adviser, and indeed the model for Jurassic Park's hero, the scientist Alan Grant (played by Sam Neill).

'He called me up out of the blue,' Dr Horner said yesterday at the Natural History Museum in London, where he will give two lectures this weekend on the family life of dinosaurs and whether Tyrannosaurus Rex was a scavenger or hunter.

'I had to make sure the dinosaurs moved right and the actors made the right noises. Spielberg also wanted to know what a palaeontologist looks like.'

The phenomonal success of the film has a lot to do with dinomania among children. Dr Horner can offer no explanation for why children should be so fascinated, except that dinosaurs 'are different creatures that looked like monsters'.

Among his greatest successes was discovering nests of baby dinosaurs - complete with eggs - of a beast known as Maiasaura, or 'good mother lizard'. Until then, baby dinosaurs had been a complete mystery. 'People had been looking in the wrong place,' he explained. Another great find was a bed of bones unearthed in 1982 that contained some 10,000 specimens of duckbill dinosaurs. He had stumbled across evidence for huge dinosaur herds that roamed the prehistoric plains.

He is laconic about the biggest dinosaur mystery of all: what killed them off. 'I don't care. I'm more concerned about how they lived.'

One of his latest finds - a nearly intact specimen of T. Rex, the biggest carnivore to walk the earth - has revealed to scientists that dinosaurs had red blood cells. This has led some to speculate that the DNA of dinosaurs may soon be recovered, much as it was in the film. But he is scathing about the prospect of bringing the beasts back to life.

'I like Jurassic Park a lot. But it's science fiction.'

(Photographs omitted)