Dinosaurs: Fossils and Paleontology (US National Park Service) (2023)

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    Dinosaurs: Fossils and Paleontology (US National Park Service) (1)


    Dinosaurs are among the most popular and iconic fossil organisms, and dinosaur bones and footprints are favorite attractions at many National Park Service facilities. Fossil bodies and tracks of non-avian dinosaurs have been documented in at least 21 areas of the NPS. Geographically, this record covers the entire continental United States fromBig Bend National Park(Texas) aSpringfield Arsenal National Historic Site(Massachusetts), and north toDenali National Park and Preserve(Alaska), but is centered off the Colorado Plateau.

    meeting the dinosaurs

    • What makes a dinosaur a dinosaur?
    • where the dinosaurs roamed
    • Main groups of dinosaurs
    • What ended the dinosaurs?
    • Dinosaurs in the fossil record
    • famous dinosaurs

    Dinosaurs through geological time

    All dinosaurs (with the exception of birds) lived and died in the Mesozoic Era. The Mesozoic (252 to 66 million years ago) was the "Age of Reptiles." Dinosaurs, crocodiles, and pterosaurs ruled the land and the air. As the climate changed, sea levels rose around the world and the seas expanded in central North America. Large marine reptiles such as plesiosaurs, along with curly-shelled ammonites, flourished in these seas. Common Mesozoic fossils include dinosaur bones and teeth and various plant fossils.

    oMesozoic eraIt is further divided into three periods: the Triassic, the Jurassic, and the Cretaceous.

    Fossils in the park document dinosaurs from the late Triassic (approximately 210 million years ago) to the late Cretaceous (66 million years ago). This covers everything from some of the earliest known North American dinosaurs, to Lower and Middle Jurassic desert crawlers, to Late Jurassic giant sauropods and stegosaurs, to new finds from the Lower Cretaceous to Early Cretaceous. to tyrannosaurs and titanosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous.

    • triassic dinosaurs

      251.9 to 201.3 million years ago

    • jurassic dinosaurs

      201.3 to 145.0 million years ago

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    • cretaceous dinosaurs

      145.0 to 66.0 million years ago

    dinosaur discoveries

    The first report of dinosaurs associated with places that would one day be protected by the National Park Service dates back to the Lewis and Clark expedition. On July 25, 1806, near Pompey's Pillar in Montana, William Clark found a large fossil bone that was probably that of a dinosaur. This was along what is now commemorated as the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail. The study of dinosaurs in North America began in earnest in the 1850s, and one of the first specimens to include more than one or two bones was recovered from the Springfield Armory in 1855. This specimen was described as a small herbivore, Megadactylus polyzelus. (renamed Anchisaurus). Probably the most significant event for the study of dinosaurs in the NPS areas was Earl Douglass's discovery of what would become the Dinosaur Quarry on August 17, 1909, which ultimately led toDinosaur National Monument(Utah/Colorado) and the famous quarry wall exhibit. To the south, expeditions to collect dinosaur fossils in the futureBig Bend National Park(Texas) began in the 1930s.

    Dinosaur-related scientific work has increased in the NPS since the late 1970s. For example, during this time period, there were significant footprint discoveries in Alaska and the Colorado Plateau. Additionally, 14 of the 19 dinosaur species named from fossils found in or associated with NPS areas have been named since 1988.

    Non-avian dinosaurs get their names from fossils collected in parks

    NPS non-avian dinosaurs

    Abbreviations used

    ACM: Beneski Museum of Natural History, Amherst College

    BIBE: Big Bend National Park

    CM: Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    DINO: Dinosaur National Monument

    LSUMGS: Louisiana State University Geoscience Museum

    LSUMNS: Louisiana State Museum of Natural Sciences

    OLSP: Old Spanish National Historic Way

    PEFO: Petrified Forest National Park

    SPAR: Springfield Armory national historic site

    TMM: Texas Memorial Museum

    USNM: National Museum of Natural History

    UTEP: Chihuahuan Desert Centennial Museum and Gardens, University of Texas-El Paso

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    • Carpenter, K. and Y. Wilson. 2008. A new species of Camptosaurus (Ornithopoda, Dinosauria) from the Morrison Formation (Late Jurassic) of Dinosaur National Monument, Utah, and a biomechanical analysis of its forelimb. Annals of the Carnegie Museum 76(4): 227–263.

    • Carpenter, K. and P.M. Galton. 2018. A photographic documentation of bipedal ornithischian dinosaurs from the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation, USA. Geology of the Intermountain West 5: 167–207.

    • Chure, D. J. 1994. Koparion douglassi, a new dinosaur from the Morrison Formation (Late Jurassic) of Dinosaur National Monument: the oldest troodontid (Theropoda: Maniraptora). Geological Studies 40: 11–15.

    • Chure, D.J. and Ma. loewen. 2020. Cranial anatomy of Allosaurus jimmadseni, a new species from the lower Morrison Formation (Late Jurassic) of western North America. Peer J 8:e7803.

    • Chure, D., B. Britt, J.A. Whitlock, and J.A. Wilson. 2010. First complete skull of a sauropod dinosaur from the Cretaceous of the Americas and the evolution of sauropod dentition. Naturwissenschaften 97(4):379–391.

    • Cope, E. D. 1877. On a dinosaur two Trias from Utah. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 16: 579–584.

    • Ellinger, TUH 1950. Camarasaurus annae: a new American sauropod dinosaur. The American Naturalist 84: 225–228.

    • Hitchcock, E. 1865. Supplement to New England Ichnology. Wright and Potter, Boston, Massachusetts, United States.

    • Holland, WJ 1915. A new species of Apatosaurus. Annals of the Carnegie Museum 10: 143–145.

    • Holland, W. J. 1919. Section V. Paleontology. Carnegie Institution, Annual Reports 1918–1919: 167–169.

    • International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). 2015. Opinion 2361 (Case 3561): Anchisaurus Marsh, 1885 (Dinosauria, Sauropodomorpha): conserved use by designation of a neotype for its type species Megadactylus polyzelus Hitchcock, 1865. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 72(2):176–177.

    • Lehman, T.M. 1989. Chasmosaurus marisscalensis, sp. nov., a new ceratopsian dinosaur from Texas. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 9(2): 137–162.

    • Lehman, TM, S.L. Wick and J.R. Wagner. 2016. Hadrosaurid dinosaurs from the Maastrichtana Javelina Formation, Big Bend National Park, Texas. Journal of Paleontology 90(2):333–356.

    • Lehman, TM, S.L. Wick and K.R. Barnes. 2017. New horned dinosaur specimens from the Aguja Formation of West Texas and a revision of Agujaceratops. Journal of Systematic Paleontology 15(8): 641–674.

    • Long, RA and PA Murry. 1995. Late Triassic (Carnian and Norian) Tetrapods of the Southwestern United States. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Bulletin 4.

    • Longrich, N.R., J. Sankey, and D. Tanke. 2010. Texacephale langstoni, a new genus of pachycephalosaurs (Dinosauria: Ornithischia) from the Aguja Formation of upper Campania, southern Texas, USA. Cretaceous Survey 31:274–284.

    • Prieto-Marquez, A., J.R. Wagner and T. Lehman. 2020. An unusual "shovel-billed" dinosaur with trophic specializations from the early Campania of Trans-Pecos Texas and the ancestral crest of hadrosaurs. Journal of Systematic Paleontology 18(6): 461–498.

    • Sankey, JT 2001. Dinosaurs of Late Southern Campania, Aguja Formation, Big Bend, Texas. Journal of Paleontology 75(1): 208–215.

    • Wagner, J.R., and T.M. Lehman. 2009. A new and enigmatic hadrosaur lambeosaur (Reptilia: Dinosauria) from the upper shale member of the Campanian Aguja Formation of Trans-Pecos Texas. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 29(2): 605–611.

    • Wick, S.L. and T.M. Lehman. 2013. A new ceratopsian dinosaur from the Javelina Formation (Maastrichtian) of West Texas and implications for chasmosaurine phylogeny. Naturwissenschaften 100(7):667–682.

    • See also,NPS - Geologic Time Scale

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        related links

        • NPS: Fossils and Paleontology

        • NPS—National Natural Landmarks

        • National Fossil Day Association

        • NPS—Geology

        • NPS - Geologic Time Scale

        Site Index and Credits

        Age of Dinosaurs—Site Index

        age of the dinosaurs

        • What makes a dinosaur a dinosaur?

        • where the dinosaurs roamed

        • Main groups of dinosaurs

        • What ended the dinosaurs?

        • Dinosaurs in the fossil record

        • famous dinosaurs

        • cretaceous dinosaurs

          • Neighbors of the Cretaceous

          • A dinosaur highway

          • extinction events

        • jurassic dinosaurs

          • jurassic neighbors

          • The Morrison Formation

          • extinction events

        • triassic dinosaurs

          • Triassic neighbors

          • Supercontinente Pangeia

          • extinction events

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        age of the dinosaurs(2021)

        Text by Justin Tweet (AGI). Contributors: Vincent Santucci (GRD), Adam Marsh (PEFO), ReBecca Hunt-Foster (DINO), Don Corrick (BIBE). Project Manager/Web Development, Jim Wood (GRD).


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