Southern Utah Team Split Off

With things going great at our main Mussentuchit localities this year, and an abundance of crew, we decided to carve off a handful of our team and hunt for new dinosaur sites in southern Utah for three days.  Our target area consists of poorly mapped Late Cretaceous sediments near Bryce Canyon National Park.  Yesterday we did our first prospecting run and came across a few microsites containing croc, turtle, and fragmentary dino material.  Today, we took it up a notch, deciding to trek down a 900 foot section from the top of the stunning Claron Formation, to sediments of the Kaiparowits and Wahweap formations below.

At the base of the canyon was a creek bed with a clear flowing stream. Fragments of the Claron Formation lining the creek bed, made for a beautiful site.  We named it Rainbow Creek and sat for lunch under some pines before working up the energy to prospect the steep terrain in front of us.

"Rainbow Creek"
“Rainbow Creek” dotted with rocks of the pink, white, orange, yellow, and gray Claron Formation

Fueling up before hitting the outcrop.
Fueling up before hitting the outcrop.

The outcrop here was no picnic, in this image you may be able to make out two of the team clinging for dear life to a grey patch of sediment on the left side of the picture.

Bucky and Chris cling to the grey outcrop on the left side of the image.
Bucky and Chris cling to the grey outcrop on the left side of the image.

After scrambling around the hillsides for a few hours, we had very, very little to report, two croc teeth, a gar scale, a gastropod impression, a bit of eggshell, and some trace fossils.  The best things we’ve seen on the prospecting trip so far were alive!  We’ve stumbled on mule deer, pronghorn, gopher, prairie dogs, snakes, and some horny toads.

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On our way to the outcrop, we drove by a whole field of prairie dogs, many of whom chirped at us.
On our way to the outcrop, we drove by a whole field of prairie dogs, many of whom chirped at us.

It was a tough and disappointing prospecting day. But that is how it goes.  The best way to tell if an area is good for fossils is to get out, climb around, and look with your own eyes.  With the news that no one had had much luck came the joy of the ascent 900 feet back up to the top of the plateau.  The views here really were worth the climb, sore feet, sore shins, backs, lungs and all!  Boy are we a tired crew tonight.

Nearing the top of the plateau again, on the hike out... still a lot of hill above me.
Nearing the top of the plateau again, on the hike out… still a lot of hill above me.

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The quarry that won’t quit

Fortunate Son’s luck has not run out!

After digging through nearly a meter of nothing, Haviv came across a long bone that we think may be the tibia, or lower leg bone.

Then as we were clearing out the space next to said possible tibia, guess who decided to join the holotype party…the quadrate!!

Now the skull of this new critter is even more complete.  If Fortunate Son can squeeze a few more sweet rolls from the diçe hopefully we can get more of the pretty beast.

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Haviv, an undergraduate at Appalachian State University holds a plaster jacket with newly excavated bones from our new plant eating dinosaur species.

It’s a vert! It’s on the sagittal plane!

It’s SuperBone! I knew that dinosaurs were large, but seeing Sauropod bones in person is still unbelievable. 

  
After a week and a half in the desserts of Utah, I have learned more than I thought was possible about digging up and protecting prehistoric bones. During my last few days here, I hope to experience as much as I can in this new, exciting paleo world. 

More Bone at Fortunate Son

After days of clearing rock at Fortunate Son without a bone to be found anywhere, the crew was exuberant to radio me that they had uncovered three bones, including another limb element of this new species.  We are thrilled to have more of the skeleton of this animal and it makes moving a that rock well worth the blisters! 

 

Great Things Come In Small Packages

Suicide Hill is turned out to be an interesting site. Lots of skull bones here, which is quite unusual. Also there’s this……we thought we had a single animal here but it seems as if we gave at least two individuals. Yesterday we uncovered three dentaries (lower jaw bones), which means we have more than one animal buried here. Other well preserved bones are here including bones of the pelvis.  

exposed bones at Suicide Hill
 
One interesting pattern that is turning up here is a pile of theropod teeth on one area of the quarry.  This includes one stellar discovery–a tyrannosauroid premaxillary tooth. Quite distinctive, this tooth is most similar to early tyrannosaur species from Asia at this time. Strengthening the hypothesis of faunal interchange between these continents at this time.  

tyrannosauroid tooth at the burial site of a juvenile Eolambia
The team is desperate to find a skeleton of this new tyrannosaur species. Hopefully it’s only a matter of time!! 

Rocks on Rocks on Rocks

Today was full of a lot of things, including steep hills, slippery rocks, and a lot of falling. But it was also full of amazing views and lots of croc and theropod teeth. Once we made it to the site, we were able to do some prospecting and most of us were able to collect some teeth and bones on the surface that had been exposed from erosion, before venturing out to find new sites. I haven’t felt this tired in a long time, but it was so worth it to be able to hike through the millions of years of rock formations and to be able to be able to collect fossils I hadn’t seen yet! 

A Quarry Is Born

Last year our best discovery came in a little package—Fortunate Son, the site of a new species of dinosaur. When a new dinosaur locality is found, our permits allow us to explore the extent of the bone preserved at the site over only a small area—about one square meter. We collect what we can from the surface and try to figure out just how much of the skeleton may be preserved and over how big an area. But the truth is, there is no real way to know until you cut a quarry into the hill. Luckily for us the bones of Fortunate Son were densely packed in the hillside and we collected over thirty bones from that single meter area under our surface collecting permit last year.

Fortunate Son, before...
Fortunate Son, before…

A year later, armed with an excavation permit, we are finally able to put our wonderings to rest. Yesterday, three of us we spent the day picking and shoveling out a quarry face at Fortunate Son. This involves quickly removing all the overburden (rock layers that overly the bone layer), so we can get closer to the bones before we break into fine tools. It is a bit unfortunate that a large sandstone boulder is resting atop the main bone-bearing horizon at this site. We will likely need to find a way to move that boulder, and soon.

Fortunate Son, after.
Fortunate Son, after.

At any rate, now the fine work can begin here. It may be that very little bone is preserved at Fortunate Son and all that work was for naught. It may be that treasures await just under the quarry face we carved out yesterday. Only time, patience, and chisels will tell.