Planet Earth

Scientists Blow Up Super-Hard Rock to Get to Dinosaur Skulls

80beatsBy Andrew MosemanFeb 24, 2010 4:23 PM

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
 

NEXT>

Dinosaurs and explosives—science stories don't get much cooler than this. Researchers in Utah have excavated two complete and two partial skulls of a dino called Abydosaurus mcintoshi, a 105-million-year-old sauropod, which the scientists think might have descended from the brachiosaurus family.

"It is amazing. You can hold the skull in your hands and look into the eyes of something that lived a very long time ago" [USA Today]

, says paleontologist Brooks Britt, co-author of the study that appeared in the journal Naturwissenschaften. Click through the photo gallery for more pictures from the dig, and for the whole story. Image: Brigham Young University

NEXT>

< PREVIOUS

NEXT>

The new dinosaur was a long time in coming, and not just because it's more than 100 million years old. The fossils came from Dinosaur National Monument, a park in Colorado and Utah. But this particular quarry wasn't discovered until the 1970s and wasn't excavated until the early 1990s.

The skulls were found in 2005. Tantalized researchers, though, were stymied by rocks around the bones that were so hard that workers were unable to break through, even with use of a jackhammers and concrete saws [Los Angeles Times]

. Naturally, they turned to explosives. For three days teams detonated explosions to loosen the rock without damaging the fossils. Image: Brigham Young University

< PREVIOUS

NEXT>

< PREVIOUS

NEXT>

Britt says even finding the skulls, which appear to come from juveniles, was a lucky break.

This photo shows Britt and his colleagues preparing to remove a bone from the quarry wall. Image: Brigham Young University

"It's quite a fortuitous thing. In many dinosaurs, the bones of the head do not fuse up, especially in sauropods. You have an array of components that are held together by soft tissue. The only thing that stays together is the brain case" [Salt Lake Tribune]

. Only eight of the 120 known sauropods have had fully recovered skulls.

< PREVIOUS

NEXT>

< PREVIOUS

NEXT>

While the sensational find is currently on display at Brigham Young University, what you'd have hard time seeing on this dino—its tiny teeth—are of particular interest to Britt and colleagues. Teeth, they say, got progressively smaller from the time of the brachiosaurus circa 150 million years ago to later sauropods that lived tens of millions of years afterward. The well-preserved teeth of Abydosaurus mcintoshi, they say, represent a middle point to see this evolution in progress. Image: Brigham Young University

< PREVIOUS

NEXT>

< PREVIOUS

Like all other sauropods, Abydosaurus ate plants. Britt says the fossilized skulls show that the massive herbivore didn't have the right kind of teeth to chew its food, and instead probably gulped down big bites of plant matter whole, and did the "chewing" further down in its digestive tract.

Image: Michael Skrepnick

< PREVIOUS

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month
Already a subscriber? Log In or Register
1 free articleSubscribe
Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Log In or Register
More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Join
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

 
Subscribe
To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2021 Kalmbach Media Co.