Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

Science Channel
schedule for
“The Mystery Dinosaur”
8 p.m. July 24
11 p.m. July 24
3 a.m. July 25
9 a.m. July 25
1 p.m. July 25
4 p.m. July 29

Jane skeleton
Photo courtesy of Dave Monk, Brave New Pictures

Mike Henderson and Bill Harrison 
NIU Photo by Scott Walstrom

Mike Henderson (left) and Bill Harrison

To obtain print-quality JPEGs, contact the Office of Public Affairs at (815) 753-1681 or e-mail

News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

July 20, 2006

Dinosaur documentary features
NIU Ph.D. student, faculty

DeKalb, Ill. —Some familiar faces from Northern Illinois University—and one terrifying beast from Montana—could be entering your living room next week.

“The Mystery Dinosaur,” featuring interviews with an NIU student and faculty member, will premiere at 8 p.m. Monday, July 24, on The Science Channel and air several more times throughout the week. (See schedule on right.)

The documentary tells the story of Jane, a pristine dinosaur skeleton unearthed in Southeastern Montana by a group of mostly amateur fossil hunters from the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, where the dinosaur is now prominently displayed.

Jane was built to kill. Twenty-two feet long and 7 1/2 feet high at the hip, the dinosaur during its day tipped the scales at about 1,500 pounds. It had 72 serrated teeth.

Mike Henderson, curator of earth sciences at the Burpee and a Ph.D. student in geology at NIU, led the Montana expeditions that discovered the dinosaur and brought its skeleton back to Rockford. In the director’s cut version of the documentary screened in Rockford earlier this summer, Henderson is prominently featured, while NIU Foreign Languages Professor Bill Harrison also has a speaking role.

Harrison was one of two members of the 2001 expedition who spotted the toe bone of Jane jutting from a butte. In addition to teaching Spanish and Portuguese at NIU, he is a student of paleontology.

Jane’s discovery has been widely publicized in print, and The Science Channel documentary will potentially reach millions more households. The documentary also is expected to be shown later on The Discovery Channel, which has viewers in 50 countries.

“When you find a bone out on the high plains, you can only dream that it’s going to be significant enough to reach around the world,” Harrison said.

Created by Chicago husband-and-wife filmmakers Dave and Kathy Monk of Brave New Pictures, the documentary also includes footage of NIU geologist Reed Scherer and biologist Michael Parrish. Both worked on Jane as advisers, helping to decode the fossils’ secrets. NIU alumnus and world-renowned dinosaur hunter Paul Sereno also is interviewed in the documentary.

Jane’s discovery is of particular interest to paleontologists. Some scientists have argued that the specimen represents the discovery of a rare pygmy version of Tyrannosaurus rex, dubbed Nanotyrannus. Supported by other scientists, the Burpee Museum has concluded the dinosaur is a juvenile T. rex.

The story had great appeal to TV executives, according to Dave Monk.

“Most of these people were amateurs, going out in the field for the first time, just hoping to bring back something for their museum,” he said. “They came back with one of the rarest dinosaurs on the planet.”

Monk said his documentary is about 50 minutes long, but more than six minutes will be trimmed for the television broadcast.

“It’s entertaining but it has a lot of good science in it as well,” said Henderson, who viewed the director’s cut. “It was a pretty fair representation of the work and debate about Jane.”

While Jane’s pedigree is still debated, much is known about the dinosaur. It lived 66 million years ago and died at the age of 11 years old.

Other animal and plant fossils found in proximity to Jane provide scientists with a unique glimpse into its world. Harrison, Henderson and Douglas Nichols of the U.S. Geological Survey traveled to China last month to make presentations on Jane and her environment at the Second International Palaeontological Congress at the University of Beijing.

“I think the balance of evidence favors the interpretation of Jane as a juvenile T. rex, although that’s not universally accepted,” Henderson said. “But that’s what science is all about—discovery and debate.”