On January 27th, a 33 million year old saber tooth cat fossil met state-of-the-art 21st century CT scan technology at Rapid City Regional Hospital (RCRH). Badlands National Park, in partnership with RCRH, South Dakota School of Mines, and Badlands Natural History Association completed the high quality scan of the well preserved skull.
Saber tooth cat skulls with intact canines are extremely rare. In addition to that, bite marks on this Hoplophoneus skull make it scientifically significant. The CT scan will provide researchers with information that can be used to determine what type of animal attacked this cat and probably caused its death.
Seven-year-old Kylie Ferguson, of Georgia, discovered the impressive fossil last summer while on vacation in Badlands National Park. Kylie and her family were on hand to witness the CT scan of her amazing discovery. “Our whole family is extremely excited,” notes Kylie’s dad, Tom Ferguson. “We are so glad we attended the Junior Ranger program and reported this fossil. This discovery gives other children a chance to get excited about the science happening in our national parks.” Kylie’s class plans to participate in a distance learning video conference with the park next week.
During their visit, the Ferguson family met several park employees who were all thrilled to shake the little girl’s hand. The family also enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour of both the collection storage facility at the park and the geology museum and labs at the SD School of Mines. The trip was very meaningful to Kylie’s dad and grandfather, as they have always had an interest in geology and can now share this special connection with Kylie and her sister Skylar.
In addition to the scientific research aspect, the CT scan will also provide raw data to make a 3-D model of the skull. A machine at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology will build the model. The resulting plastic cast will be more durable than the fragile fossil. When complete, a cast will be on display at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Skull casts will eventually be available for sale through the non-profit Badlands Natural History Association bookstore and online. The Ferguson family will receive the first cast produced in honor of their discovery.