In recognition of National Fossil Day today, a part of Earth Sciences Week, we feature a story by BLM Paleo Intern Hannah Cowan about a dinosaur excavation.
"In early September, I had the opportunity to join BLM Paleontologist Alan Titus on a dinosaur excavation in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument or GSENM. After a brief tour of the BLM’s impressive paleo lab and a beautiful two hour drive through the Staircase, I finally arrived at my first paleo excavation site. Named Unicorns and Rainbows for the majestic and unimaginable discovery at this location, the fossil locality certainly lived up to its name. With the exception of the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry (which mysteriously contains a ratio of predator: prey which exceeds normal standards), predators are rarely discovered in the paleo world.
Ever since the Lythronax argestes press release last November and National Geographic article featuring excavations within the GSENM this spring, the Monument is on the nation’s radar as a paleo “hot-spot.” And, this tyrannosaur discovery is no less exciting.
When I think of a tyrannosaur, I am reminded of Jurassic Park—the scene in which the tyrannosaur chases down a jeep, or when it surprised a flock of Gallimimus. How about the infamous Spinosaurus vs. tyrannosaur fight!
At the Unicorns and Rainbows locality, I was greeted by three Denver Museum of Nature and Science volunteers who were working under the direction of GSENM Paleo Technician Scott Richardson to clear out space surrounding one large plaster-jacket. Despite the searing heat from the desert sun, there was a buzz of energy as the group worked to excavate the dinosaur.
Hours were spent bent over one small location — chiseling down around the plaster jacket to allow for its removal. Dust blew up my nose and into my eyes as splinter after splinter of rock chipped away beneath my chisel. As I worked, I kept a diligent eye for fossilized fish scales, small bones and larger tyrannosaur parts. My job was to find these fossils before they were lost amongst the settling dust and rock debris.
Although my time on the excavation was short, I began to understand the vast amount of time necessary to safely remove and transport fossilized material. I was thankful for the close partnerships formed with the Natural History Museum of Utah and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, providing Alan and staff the much needed support to excavate the tyrannosaur.
My time on the excavation ended with the discovery of multiple small fossils, belonging either to a small reptile, a small dinosaur, or as I hope, to a baby dinosaur! The opportunity to work on the tyrannosaur excavation was eye opening. It was not only a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity but also an opportunity for greater insight into field crew operations and the BLM’s goals for the GSENM paleontology program. The tyrannosaur discovery will hopefully solve questions regarding predator life history, evolution and the ecosystem’s fauna.
I’d like to wish Alan and the crew luck with the remaining excavation, and express my appreciation for the supporting universities and museums who work in concert with the BLM to further paleontological research and discovery on public lands in Utah.”
- Hannah Cowan