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.
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.
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.