The University Record, March 25, 1997

Medical illustrator makes all the puzzle pieces fit

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

After nearly 200 hours of concentrated effort, John Klausmeyer just about has the 60-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle completed. Using a heat gun, leather gloves, drills and bits, oil and acrylic paints, and various size brushes, sponges, and rags, the medical illustrator has just about finished part of the puzzle that will be featured in "Back to the Sea: The Evolution of Whales." The exhibition is slated for an October opening at the Exhibit Museum.

The puzzle pieces belong to the skull of Sinonyx, an early, primitive member of the mesonychid group. Sinonyx was built for power and stamina and was well equipped to take care of itself by killing slower-moving prey or scavenging along beaches.

Nearly 56 million years ago, this rather short-legged creature with a grotesquely oversized skull and toes that ended in little hooflets was really the forerunner of what we know as whales.

The original skull of this prehistoric specimen was discovered in China by Philip Gingerich, director and curator of the Paleontology Museum, and is described by Klausmeyer as being "smashed and twisted, bowed and misshapen."

By using silicone putty---a sort of Play-Doh for professionals---and some polyester, Klausmeyer made a cast of the original Sinonyx skull and reconstructed it. "He had a big head but a tiny brain," Klausmeyer says. Klausmeyer also was involved in some dental surgery on the reconstructed skull, making sure that the teeth occluded, or meshed.

"I don't know of any other museums that have mounted a full skeleton," he says. "It's rare to find a fossil this complete.

"Challenging and rewarding projects like this are why I have stayed here," Klausmeyer continues. "We took this thing that looked like it had been run over by a car and got a good replica of the original animal."