UGS paleontology work at Stike’s Quarry September 2013

The UGS paleontology field program, Jim Kirkland, Don DeBlieux, and Scott Madsen, recently complete 2 weeks of field work at our Stike’s Quarry dinosaur site in eastern Utah.  This spectacular site has been the subject of news reports earlier this summer and is the site where a episode of the Discovery Channel television show Dirty Jobs was filmed in 2011.  This site contains the well-preserved remains of numerous dinosaurs, including adult and juvenile Utahraptor skeletons.  We have had difficulty removing the bones from this site because there are so many clustered together.  Because they are packed so closely together, we have had to use plaster and burlap to jacket a large block with the hope of one day using a large cargo helicopter to fly the block – now on the order of 5 tons – off of the large mesa on which it is located.   The large number of bones at this site, along with the nature of the sediments that they are preserved in, leads us to hypothesize that the animals were trapped in a dewatering feature (something similar to quicksand).   Our work this September focused on further excavating, isolating, and pedestaling the main block.  Work was initially hampered by several days of rain which pinned our team in camp unable to work or leave because the ground and roads became muddy and impassible.

As the weather cleared,

we were able to make good progress with an electric powered jack-hammer and pneumatic chisels to remove rock from around and under the block.  This was not the fine-detail, dental pick, and paint brush paleontology that many picture – but back breaking manual labor more akin to highway construction!

Many tons of rock where removed by hand and a tunnel was completed under the jacket leaving it on two large pedestals.

The exposed rock around the bone was covered in plaster to protect it from the elements.  Our final task to ready the block for transport, is to construct a wooden timber frame and box around the jacket to reinforce and stabilize it.  We hope to complete this work in the Spring of 2014.  We were assisted in the field by several volunteers from the Utah Friends of Paleontology.  The excavation was conducted under a permit from the State of Utah.  The BLM allowed us access to the site.

Big Water Dinosaur Festival 2013

Dinosaurs were significant tourists, back in the day. Some enjoyed the area so much, they decided to stay. A few of them were even known to throw their weight around! The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) has provided a treasure trove of dinosaur discoveries. Of the 39 new dinosaur discoveries worldwide, nine have come from the GSENM!





Discoveries emerging from fossils found at Southern Parkway Project excavation sites

Four new paleontological sites were discovered during the Southern Parkway project in Washington County, and 10 previously known localities were surveyed for additional paleontological resources. Paleontologist Andrew Milner shares his findings, some of which may be entirely new discoveries to science.



POTD August 27, 2013: Dinosaur Tracks near Moab, Grand County, Utah

Near Moab, Grand County, Utah
Photographer: Carole McCalla

During Jurassic time, a sauropod walked across mud, sinking deeply into it. The footprints can be seen preserved in the rock near Moab in Grand County. BLM interpretive site.

POTD August 26, 2013: Hanksville-Burpee Quarry, Wayne County, Utah

Hanksville-Burpee Quarry, Wayne County, Utah
Photographer: James I. Kirkland

Not a logjam, but a “legjam” of dinosaur bones left in a channel of Jurassic-aged river is being excavated at the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry in Wayne County. BLM interpretive site.

Misplaced Piece of the Cretaceous Returns to Utah, August 2013

Utah State Paleontologist, Jim Kirkland, is happily reunited with this unique (the first fully intact) shark coprolite from the Cedar Mountain Formation.

In August, the UGS received an important piece of Utah history in the form of an Early Cretaceous coprolite.  A coprolite is a fossil feces; and in this example a fully intact feces from an Early Cretaceous fresh water spiny (hybodont) shark. Although discovered in the early 1990s, the fossil had been missing for about 20 years.

The discovery goes back to when Utahraptor had first been discovered; I was exploring the outcrops of the upper Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation with geologist Dan Howe (Howe Resources, Buena Vista, CO) who picked up an unusual blob of rock that included fish scales within it. Fragments of such things were not uncommonly found in this interval throughout the area and were an important line of evidence that these rocks had been deposited in a lake. A spiral, layered structure indicated these lumps were coprolites from a fish with a spiral intestine (spiral valve). Of the fish known from these beds only lungfish and hybodont sharks had spiral intestines and only hybodont shark coprolites were apt to consistently include fish scales within them. However, this was, and still is, the only complete example of this kind of fossil known from these rocks. Later, I called Dan and asked him where the fossil was and he assured me he had given it to me. After an intensive search through all my sample bags, it did not turn up. So, I assumed I had stupidly put it down and walked off without it.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from Dan who had stumbled across it going through some boxes (he had moved his life a few times across three states).  Dan quickly sent it back over to Utah.

While, future scientific studies of these coprolites can be carried out on the many fragmentary specimens, this remains the sole specimen for which the complete external morphology can be appraised. This specimen will be added to the Natural History Museum of Utah’s collections, where it may be examined by students and researchers in perpetuity.

Yellow Cat Road Section with Hybodont Shark level indicated.

The Wasatch Behind

Back in 1961, a young geology teacher at Carbon College spoke at a meeting of the local rock and gem society. The young man from California told those assembled that they lived in one of the most unique and interesting areas of the United States and they really should have a museum where they could share the geological, paleological, and archaeological treasures of the region with the world.



Utah Geological Survey Paleo Update – Summer 2013

The Utah Geological Survey’s paleontology program is midway through a four-week dig at the Doelling’s Bowl dinosaur site.  During the previous two summers, we excavated the bones of several individuals of a new species of sauropod (long necked) dinosaur. The most complete of these is an associated skeleton of an animal that became mired in mud, died, and was scattered over an area of roughly 10 square meters.  We know the animal was stuck because we recovered a lower leg and arm still articulated and preserved in place.  Most of the limb bones, multiple vertebrae, and parts of the skull and jaws have been recovered.

The goal of this year’s project is to expand the excavation area with the hope of finding additional parts of the skeleton.  Several important parts of the skeleton that had not been found included the humerus (upper arm bone) and the scapula (shoulder blade).  The team was successful after just a few days of work when we uncovered a scapula with a humerus lying right next to it.  Several vertebrae, including a string of articulated tail vertebrae have also been found and are being excavated.  Only a few elements of the skull, such as the maxilla (upper jaw), premaxilla (snout), and nasal bones, remain to be found in order to have a complete skeleton.

In addition to the Survey personnel, the team has several student interns helping with the dig, and has been joined by a class from the University of Utah’s biology department, volunteers from the newly formed Moab chapter of the Utah Friends of Paleontology, and interns from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The excavation is being conducted under permits from the BLM.