Dinosaur Bones Fill Gaps In Ancient History

Oct 19, 2015

Utah paleontologists are telling the world about a quarry of fossils they’ve been unearthing on the northeastern edge of the state. It offers clues about what life was like during a mysterious period of time in the American West.

Dan Chure, park paleontologist at Dinosaur National Monument, was searching eastern Utah a few years ago for clues about life in the West around 200 million years ago, when he and a colleague spotted the site a few years ago. Chure says they were surprised to see an oasis in the fossilized sand dunes and even more surprised to find bones. So far they’ve dug up more than 11 thousand of them.

“It’s almost as though if you had a mural and the middle section of the mural was missing,” he says, “and now we are finally able to start painting in what that missing part of the mural looks like.”

The scientists are dubbing it the Saints and Sinners site. And they’ve found some odd characters, like the “bizarre” drepanosaur that’s never before been found in a desert. And “the Triplets” a trio of sphenosuchians, which Chure describes as running, foot-long crocodiles found huddled together. They also discovered the skull and wing tip of a pterosaur, a flying reptile with big teeth and a strong jaw.

“Triassic pterosaurs are extremely rare,” says That’s Brooks Britt, a Brigham Young University geology professor and part of the team studying the bones and the site itself. “In all of the world, there are only 27 specimens known from the Triassic, and most of those consist of just a single bone, like a neck vertebra.”

Last week Britt presented what the collaborators have found so far at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.