A new site near the town of Hanksville, Utah, has yielded 100s of dinosaur bones. The site is located within the Morrison Formation, a rock unit composed of sandstones, siltstones, and clays laid down by braided rivers in an ancient floodplain 145-150 million years ago. This was the zenith of gigantism in dinosaurs, the largest of which were the sauropod dinosaurs, some of which exceeded 30 meters in length! The site was featured by National Geographic, named one of the top ten paleontology sites of 2008, and was featured in a German documentary on Utah dinosaurs.
The Hanksville-Burpee site preserves a natural “log-jam” of dinosaur bones, petrified logs, and invertebrate fossils. The dig itself is a coordinated effort of the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois, Western Illinois University, and the Utah Bureau of Land Management.
Probably the most important thing about this dinosaur find is the potential for cooperation and mutual benefit to scientists, the public, and especially the people of Hanksville, Utah. The Hanksville-Burpee site and all of its contents were found on public land and so belong to everyone. Dinosaurs are an excellent vehicle for science education and outreach – already a diverse group of scientists, students, and volunteers from the Burpee Museum, the Utah Bureau of Land Management, and several universities have participated in preserving this natural treasure. This is not simply a matter of digging up dead reptiles – it is about preserving our collective natural heritage in a way that benefits everybody. As a dinosaur paleontologist, I am simply happy to help uncover our shared, ancient past and hope that, in the process, we all benefit.