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Dinosaur Bones Fill Gaps In Ancient History

Brooks Britt
Brigham Young University
The Triplets are spenosuchians, crocodile-like creatures that have what Dan Chure calls "bizarre" body parts that were highly specialized -- and unexpected at the desert-dunes site.

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. 

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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