Utah Paleontologists Discover Dinosaur With European Roots

Nov 9, 2017

“I’m Jim Kirkland, state paleontologist for Utah with the Utah Geological Survey. I’ve had the opportunity to work in this area for about 45 years now, hunting dinosaurs.”

Recently, Kirkland was part of a major discovery. Following a flash flood in 2010, a dinosaur skeleton was discovered at a site northeast of Moab. The skeleton is the most complete individual sauropod from the Cretaceous Period ever found.

"We fairly quickly realized that this thing was a mired sauropod, a long neck dinosaur that had gotten stuck in the mud, so that the hind leg and one of the forelegs was sticking down, vertically, into the mud below the rest of the skeleton. So this poor animal had been stuck in the mud. You hate to imagine how long it took for it to finally die, unless it was lucky and some big meat-eating dinosaur came and put it out of its misery.”

When he started to collaborate with Spanish and British colleagues, they realized that wasn’t the only unique thing about it.

“I brought Rafael Royo-Torres in as a collaborator, and he recognized that this thing was actually from a group of dinosaurs that had never been found in North America before.”

Kirkland says the group is called Turiasaurus, which Royo-Torres had discovered and named about a decade ago. The group is native to Europe.

The newly discovered dinosaur is both a new genus and species. The name of the genus, mierasaurus, is for the Spanish cartographer and scientist D. Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco, the scientific leader of the 1776 Domínguez-Escalante Expedition.

“This Spanish scientist coming into Utah would be a great person to name this new dinosaur that came in here from Spain. Two Spanish invaders of Utah separated by millions of years.”

Its species name is for Robert Young, an American geologist who conducted the first comprehensive work on the Early Cretaceous period in the Colorado Plateau, where the dinosaur was discovered.