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First Dinosaur Found In Utah Excavated 155 Years After Discovery

Sauropod reconstruction.
The inaugural dinosaur find in the state is finally being excavated after a 155-year gap following discovery.

155 years after it was discovered, the first dinosaur found in Utah is finally being excavated. In 1859, while on the Macomb Expedition, botanist and geologist John Newberry discovered the fossilized remains of what is now known to be a sauropod. Newberry attempted to excavate the remains at the time of discovery, but lacked the proper tools and time.

The Publication of Newberry’s writings and maps about the discovery were put on hold while the country descended into the Civil War. By the time anyone thought to locate the site, said Museum of Moab Director John Foster, all of those who had been on the expedition had been dead for decades.

“When you really get out there, there’s an awful lot of terrain to cover looking for a few little bone fragments on the surface,” said Foster.

The site of the fossils was lost for more than a century until Fran Barns, a well-known explorer of the area surrounding Moab, decided to search for the fossils. It wasn’t until 1989, 12 years after he began his search, that Barns located the site. However, lack of funding, tools and time once again impeded excavation.

With a grant from the nonprofit Canyonlands Natural History Association, Foster was able to begin excavation of the dinosaur this year.

“They’re basically the long-necked, long-tailed, multi-tonged, plant-eating dinosaurs that walked around on all fours; they had a body a little like an elephant,” said Foster.  

According to Foster, these fossils have the promise of telling paleontologists more about the history of sauropods in North America, particularly what other continents they may have originated from.

“The first evidence of sauropods in North America are trackways,” said Foster. “There are some around Utah and there are some down in Mexico as well, but the first evidence of their skeletons is this one that we’re working on, which is why it has the potential to tell us who these later North American sauropods are related to, and perhaps what continent they may have come in from.”

Paleontologists worked for 10 days during August to remove most of the dinosaur.