DURHAM — The head of an aging brontosaurus stolen Sunday night is back at the Museum of Life and Science with a big hole in its jaw and a question mark over its future.
"We'll meet to take a closer look at it to see if it can or cannot be restored," museum spokeswoman Taneka Bennett said Wednesday afternoon.
Durham police found the head of the 77-foot-long statue around noon in woods off Preston Andrews Road, near the Little River in northern Durham County.
"It appears it was taken as a prank," police spokeswoman Kammie Michael said.
In a formal statement, Police Capt. Larry Smith said the culprits had been identified, but their names were not released.
The head and neck of the dinosaur statue, which has stood on museum grounds since 1967, were reported missing Monday morning. First announced on the Northgate Park neighborhood e-mail list, the vandalism set off a torrent of electronic conversation among Durham residents.
"An act like this is just heinous," wrote Northgate homeowner Mike Shiflett, who offered a $100 reward for recovery of the missing pieces.
Others speculated about whether the landmark could be repaired, or just expressed anger and sadness.
"I think it is a disgrace not to repair the icon," Annette Barber wrote. "My dad helped build the dinosaur so many years ago, and now it is as if my dad has died all over again."
Part of the neck was found lying on the ground near the statue, but the head remained missing for two days.
The brontosaurus was, in times gone by, the main attraction on a "Pre-History Trail" at what was then the Durham Children's Museum.
As years went by, the museum grew in other directions, and the trail became scientifically obsolete. The name "brontosaurus" has been changed to "apatosaurus." Eventually the trail was closed and abandoned, its other creatures falling victim to pranksters and the elements; but the brontosaurus endured, albeit very weathered, in plain view of a popular greenway.
About three years ago, some Northgate Park residents contacted the museum about restoring the brontosaurus for the sake of nostalgia and neighborhood history.
The museum was receptive but put the conversation on hold until after its new Dinosaur Trail opens this summer.
Page McCullough, a member of Northgate's neighborhood association board, thanked the Durham Police for their work Wednesday afternoon and said the association is still interested in pitching in to repair the dinosaur. The association, she said, "will be talking with [the museum] about what the possibilities are."