A new species of dinosaur, discovered at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, was officially announced Thursday by the Natural History Museum of Utah.
Dr. Randall Irmis, chief curator and curator of paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Utah, co-authored the research study about the new dinosaur.
“This particular new species, Akainacephalus johnsoni, is totally unique, has only been found in southern Utah, and as of yet we only have this one specimen,” he said.
The dinosaur, a member of the ankylosaurid family, was first discovered in 2008 but, as Irmis explains, the discovery process is a lengthy one.
“You often think ‘Oh maybe the excavation, the digging it up, is what takes the longest.’ But it turns out, that that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Irmis explains that it only takes a few weeks or months to dig up a specimen but that once it’s brought back to the lab, the grueling process known as fossil preparation begins. Removing the thick layers of rock the fossils are encased in can take hundreds and even thousands of hours of detailed work. For the Akainacephalus johnsoni, a majority of this work was done by museum volunteer, Randy Johnson, where the dinosaur gets the ‘johnsoni’ in its name.
Only once the fossil preparation is complete, can the research begin, a process that can take years.
“So it’s a really long process and that’s why ten years later we’re finally announcing this new species,” Irmis said. “That’s why I really love paleontology because there’s multiple moments of discovery. There’s that initial moment of discovery when you uncover a bone in the field. But then you have equally exciting moments of discovery in the lab when you’re cleaning up those fossils.”
Irmis said he thinks more Akainacephalus johnsoni’s and other species will continue to be discovered in southern Utah.
“It really goes to show how much there is out there left to be discovered. Particularly in Utah. This came from southern Utah in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. And there are just a whole trove of different new species in the fossil record waiting to be discovered down there. And this came from public lands that are protected by law and we are preserving these fossils in the public trust here at the Natural History Museum of Utah.”