March 1, 2010
Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument is best known for the exquisite collection of Jurassic-age fossils that have been discovered there since the beginning of the 20th century, but what is less well known is that more recent Cretaceous critters can be found there, too. When I visited the national park last summer I dropped by a dig being undertaken by paleontologists from Brigham Young University which had turned up the remains of a predator akin to Deinonychus and a sauropod that would have looked like a smaller rendition of Brachiosaurus. At the time these dinosaurs did not have names, but now paleontologists Dan Chure, Brooks Britt, John Whitlock, and Jeffrey Wilson have finally given a name to the large herbivore.
At first the presence of sauropod dinosaurs alongside “raptors” might seem like an anachronism. The long-necked plant eaters were the dominant herbivores during the Jurassic, but for years what paleontologists saw in the fossil record suggested that they were all but wiped out by the Cretaceous. (Alamosaurus, a sauropod that may have lived alongside Tyrannosaurus, was an exception.) As scientists have continued their research, however, it has come to light that there were a number of sauropods that lived during the Early Cretaceous (146-100 million years ago) of North America, and the new genus from Dinosaur National Monument is one of them. It is called Abydosaurus mcintoshi.
What is truly amazing about Abydosaurus is that among its remains paleontologists found a complete skull. As big and heavy as the rest of their skeletons were the heads of sauropods were light and relatively easily detached, and more often than not those skulls are never found. Finding the skull of any sauropod is cause for excitement, and the discovery of the Abydosaurus cranium is all the more special because it is the first complete skull to be found from an Early Cretaceous sauropod from North America. It is truly a beautiful specimen, and based upon what I saw at the dig expect to see much more of Abydosaurus in the months and years to come.
Chure, D., Britt, B., Whitlock, J., & Wilson, J. (2010). First complete sauropod dinosaur skull from the Cretaceous of the Americas and the evolution of sauropod dentition Naturwissenschaften DOI: 10.1007/s00114-010-0650-6
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