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Front Page » May 11, 2010 » Emery County News » Dino Digs
Published 1,565 days ago

Dino Digs


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By PATSY STODDARD
Editor

Emery County continues to be the place for the discovery of dinosaurs. The Morrison Formation has revealed another of its hidden treasures with the discovery of an allosaurus near Castle Dale. About 10 miles down a dirt road leading into the Swell the dinosaur was discovered in December and excavation work began in May. The dinosaur lies approximately 200 yards off the roadway up a small hill.

Ramal Jones is Emery County's own dinosaur hunter. He has discovered a dinosaur and his wife Carole is also noted for finding one too. Jones was out with employees from the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric museum in December of last year. They discovered some bones below the area where the new dinosaur was found. Further exploration led to the discovery of the dinosaur in the old flood plain. At that time four femur bones were removed from the site, and 10 bones total, but then winter set in and the site was covered until spring when work has started again at the site. The bones were recovered from the shale. The site contains 27 articulated vertebrae. Bill Heffner, from the CEU staff found the site while out looking for bones. The staff is continually looking for new sites.

This dinosaur is articulated meaning the bones are connected together and still in the position they were in when the animal was deposited. The site is being referred to as the gooseneck site because of the way the vertebrae bent back. This dinosaur's neck was bent back after it was dead when it was deposited in its final resting place. At this site bones from a young allosaurus, a carnivore, and from a sauropod a long necked herbivore have been found.

These dinosaurs lived during the late Jurassic period approximately 140 million years ago. The bone bed lies in the brushy basin, of the Morrison Formation. The Morrison Formation is famous for its abundance of fossils. This is the same formation where the Cleveland-Lloyd dinosaur quarry lies near Cleveland. The Morrison Formation was formed from the deposits of lakes and slow moving streams and rivers. Dinosaur bones were covered with sediments carried by moving water. The sediment covered and protected the bones from scavengers, bacteria and insects.

As sediments continued to build up the slow process of fossilization started. Dissolved minerals in the ground water began to fill up the porous spaces of the bone. Over centuries the bone turned to rock. Under the right conditions every minute detail of the bone can be preserved even down to the microscopic level.

During the excavation the volunteer workers as well as CEU museum personnel have been carefully removing the layer of dirt and sediment over the bones. They use brooms and dust pans to carefully remove the dirt.

Jones said, "After the bone has been carefully cleaned they will French around the bone. They will pedestal the bone. They will cover the bone with wet paper towels and newspaper. The bone will then be covered with burlap strips soaked in plaster of Paris. They will build up a lip and undercut the bone. It will be allowed to dry and then it is popped loose like with a tire iron and turned over. The bone in its jacket will be transported to the lab at the CEU museum. It will be uncovered slowly.

"If the bone isn't handled properly it can fracture into a bunch of pieces. It must be glued carefully. After the bone is exposed in the lab, it is cleaned and given a catalog number and placed in the archives. This archives is a repository for the BLM and all the bones found go there. Any digs CEU participates in go into this repository. The bones are held in trust and available for study.

"After the identification period, casts will be made of the bones. Any parts that are missing will need to be molded as well so a complete dinosaur can be replicated. Then a complete skeleton can be assembled for our museum or other museums can purchase them. This is a long process from the finding of a dinosaur to the completion of a skeleton for display," said Jones.

Jones said an allosaurus tooth had been discovered at the site as well, from the tooth it looks like the skull of the beast will be two feet long. The dinosaur itself could measure 25 feet long.

Jones said, "Man has always been concerned about where life came from and how it evolved. The earth is old, it has many different ages and periods of time that go back hundreds of millions of years. Discoveries like this dinosaur can help tell the story of what this earth looked like. Stories of how coal beds were formed and other questions can be answered. Dinosaurs are a part of that era. There is a lot of curiosity about dinosaurs. They can be used for scientific research and public curiosity. Sites like this let the people see it's not just a bunch of rocks. There is a history and a reason and rhyme behind these discoveries. When you look across the Swell, you are seeing millions of years of natural history.

"Dinosaurs have been discovered throughout the world. They existed before the continents broke off and formed North and South America. There are different kinds of dinosaurs found here, but they seem to be from the same family. Before my wife Carole discovered her dinosaur, they didn't think that kind of dinosaur existed in North America, but that discovery proved they did exist here. New discoveries are being made all the time and new information revealed. There is a lot of interest in dinosaurs.

"Some dinosaur dig sites are kept secret, but with this site being so close to the road. We wanted to share it with the public and let them see how an excavation site works. Part of the reason for secrecy with most sites, is the archeologists don't want people to disturb the sites and cause damage to the bones. We want to involve the public here as much as possible to let them see how life existed at different times in the earth's history," said Jones.

It is expected to take a week to excavate the dinosaur.

The CEU museum is a world class museum and repository for dinosaur bones. Right now the museum is in a search for a new director. Applications have been received from all over the country and there is a lot of interest in the position. Interviews are being conducted this week for the position.

Jones said, "The discovery of the new dinosaur will help develop our area and increase its importance in the world of dinosaurs. At CEU museum there are a lot of discoveries and nowhere to put them. I would like to see the counties help develop and grow the resources we have with this dinosaur history. There are a lot of people interested in dinosaurs and our area and discoveries of this kind help promote our area."

Mike Leschin is the paleontologist for the Price Field Office. He is the director of the Cleveland-Lloyd dinosaur quarry. He was on site at the dig. His job was to get all the clearances needed so the site could be excavated. He completed all the paperwork involved to see the site is in compliance.

On this excavation day a number of volunteers and visitors to the site gathered to help and watch the extraction. Alex Atkinson, 8, from Salt Lake said, "I am from Salt Lake. I came down here with my dad and grandpa to visit the site. It's pretty cool. This is the first bone I've worked on. I've been brushing the dirt off the bone with a paint brush to clean it."

Crews will remain at the site around the clock until the excavation is complete.

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