LEWISTON — How do you fill a college lecture hall on a sunny spring day?

One word: Dinosaurs!

Nearly every seat at Bates College’s Carnegie Hall was occupied Thursday when paleontologist Ken Lacovara talked about the discovery of Dreadnoughtus, said to be among the most monstrous of creatures ever to stomp across the land.

How monstrous was the species? At 85 feet long and 65 tons, the Dreadnoughtus was eight or nine times the mass of the fearsome T-Rex.

“Or for those of you in Maine,” Lacovara told the audience, “52 moose.”

The massive bones of the herbivore were unearthed by Lacovara’s team in 2005 in Patagonia, a barely inhabited region at the very tip of South America. Lacovara’s tale of discovering and unearthing the bones is worthy of Indiana Jones.

With the help of a slide show, Lacovara told the story about the journey and the sometimes unconventional means he took to access the dig site — a story that involves a forklift, a front-end loader, a toboggan and Lacovara bouncing his pickup truck down a harrowing hill that the locals dare not drive.

The results were stunning and shook the world of paleontology. Lacovara’s slide show included photos of dinosaur ribs, femurs, teeth and tail, each almost too massive for the human mind to comprehend.

“I never thought I’d see a dig site like this in my career,” Lacovara said.

Getting 16 tons of bones back to the U.S. was no easy feat, either, according to Lacovara, professor of paleontology and dean of earth & environment at New Jersey’s Rowan University. There was the matter of transporting it, of course, but there were also local laws and regulations to consider. Before the bones could be removed from the country, each had to be tested by local officials to make sure Lacovara wasn’t transporting drugs instead of one of the most significant finds of the decade.

In the end, a drug-sniffing dog toured the Dreadnoughtus remains before they were given clearance to continue the journey north.

“I’m thinking, all of these years, all of this money and all we’ve been through,” Lacovara told the audience at Bates, “and it comes down to the opinion of a dog.”

But the Dreadnoughtus, 70 percent intact, did make it back and both dinosaur and paleontologist have been celebrities since. Lacovara has been everywhere, discussing his findings in scientific journals and getting profiled by some of the biggest publications in the world. 

One of the coolest parts of the process? The right to name the new species. Lacovara named the beast after one of the first battleships built as a means of honoring the Dreadnoughtus’ might.

“I have a lot of reverence and awe for these creatures,” Lacovara said, “after spending so much time with them.”

Researchers have since performed laser scans of the discovered bones and have published 3-D models, which allows other paleontologists around the world to study the fossil.

Lacovara’s fondness for his find is evident. He refers to the Dreadnoughtus as his “baby” a few times throughout the speech. Alas, the bones were not his to keep. According to the laws in the region where the discovery was made, Dreadnoughtus had to be returned to South America.

Lacovara followed the transport truck as far as he could; all the way to Delaware Bay where it was loaded onto a ship.

“I found a little bar and I got the biggest beer they’ll sell to a human,” Lacovara said. “And watched the Dreadnoughtus go out to sea.”

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