Monumental discoveries: Scientists unearth two 'new' dinosaurs in southern Utah
'Dream summer' at Escalante yields two new dinosaur species
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

CEDAR CITY - Paleontologists are giddy after the fossil frenzy at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument yielded yet more fruit: two heretofore unknown 75-million-year-old dinosaurs.

"It's been a dream summer," beamed Alan Titus, Bureau of Land Management paleontologist for the 1.9 million-acre monument in southern Utah.

A 6-foot-long skull of one of the plant-eating creatures - found intact along with about 30 percent of its skeleton - belongs to a beast similar to members of the ceratoid family, but boasts some distinct features.

"We realized from its features and characteristics we've never seen it before," Titus said.

Those characteristics make it impossible to categorize the creature in the two subfamilies for ceratoid dinosaurs - which, like the triceratops, are known for their facial horns and a shield that fans out from the back of the neck.

What makes this dinosaur unique is the mammoth size of the horns over the eyes and the stubby horn over the nose in addition to the shield features, Titus said.

The skull was found this summer by a volunteer.

About a week before that discovery, the same group found the skeleton of another ceratop-like dinosaur - including a partial skull - that defies known species as well.

Scientists also found fossilized skin impressions, which can help tell about the anatomy of an animal more than bones alone.

Titus credited the discovery to a group of paleontologists unearthing other fossils in a remote area of what is known as the Kaiparowits Formation on the Kaiparowits Plateau.

Volunteer Scott Richardson found the full skull after spotting an interesting-looking bone on the ground. It turned out to be a bone that connects the skull to the neck.

Richardson said he had just finished a 12-week internship sponsored by the Geological Society of America's GeoCorp program and was visiting the paleontologist camp Aug. 23 before leaving for the summer.

"They were working on some hadrosaur skulls and had everything under control, so I decided to do some prospecting," Richardson said from his home in Flagstaff, Ariz. "I'd only gone about 200 yards and found a few pieces of bone sticking above the ground."

After brushing off the bones, Richardson told camp-mate Mike Getty, curator of collections for the Utah Museum of Natural History.

"[Getty] said the skull was unique and the best specimen to ever come off of the monument," Richardson said.

Titus noted that the skull is the most important fossil to find. For some reason, he explained, dinosaur skulls evolved faster than other parts of the creatures, so they are crucial to identifying new species.

The specimens, now covered in protective plaster jackets, will be airlifted out of the remote area. Crews tried to do so Monday, but failed because the helicopter could not lift the roughly 1,600-pound package containing the skull.

Titus now is trying to locate a larger copter to transport the bones to a place where they can be shipped to the Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City for further study.

Scott Sampson, the museum's curator of vertebrate paleontology, is overwhelmed by the finds.

"It is the most successful season we've had on the monument in years," he said. "We've found at least two new dinosaurs. Rarely in paleontology have there been so many horned dinosaurs found. It's just not that common."

He noted the horned dinosaurs had not been known to exist south of Canada and Montana.

"These [fossils] represent a new kind of dinosaur and will tell us a good deal about what life was like for dinosaurs 75 million years ago," Sampson said.

He said the fossils show that a lot of huge animals lived in a fairly small area.

"Just look what happened the past dozen years; 10 or 12 new kinds of dinosaurs have been identified."

In addition to the horned dinosaurs, Sampson added, scientists have found ancient crocodiles, turtles, fish and insects on the monument from when it was the shoreline of a vast, inland sea.

Paleontologists are also uncovering a juvenile tyrannosaurus, which also could be a new animal.

"The bottom line is, we're opening a window on the world of dinosaurs that has previously been unknown," Sampson said. "This has been the best season of my life."

mhavnes@sltrib.com

Raptor replica

* A life-size replica of a previously unknown raptorlike dinosaur - found earlier on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and unveiled this spring - will go on display next week in Ogden.

* The George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park will feature the 7-foot-tall Hagryphus giganteus starting Sept. 29.