Museum unveils new armored dinosaur fossil find
DICKINSON – The newly renamed Badlands Dinosaur Museum in Dickinson unveiled some of the discoveries made during its 2017 fieldwork at its “Dinosaur Summer” event this week.
Fieldwork co-leaders Drs. Denver Fowler and Elizabeth Freedman Fowler described the discovery of a new armored dinosaur and a wealth of new sites, three of which are expected to yield skeletons of the carnivorous tyrannosaurs. Attendees at the Wednesday event later had the opportunity to visit with the field crew and see some of the fossils freshly prepared by field crewmember Jack Wilson.
The armored dinosaur, a nodosaur related to the tail-clubbed Ankylosaurus, is expected to be a new species because its fossils were recovered from a rock layer – 3 million years older than other known species of its family.
“We have a good proportion of the skeleton already, a lot of the leg bones, many ribs, vertebrae, parts of the pelvis, and six or seven of the large armor spikes,” said Fowler. “The real prize is the beautiful complete skull; this is the most important part of the skeleton if you want to tell what species you have.”
The nodosaur was collected from private land near the town of Rudyard in northern Montana. Freedman Fowler has been working with landowners Dan and Lila Redding for 14 years and is looking forward to returning to collect the rest of the skeleton.
“Nodosaurs are not very common compared to the other plant-eating dinosaurs, so we are thrilled to find such a great skeleton”, said Freedman Fowler.
Some of the most exciting discoveries made by the Dickinson team are brand new sites, from near Malta, Montana. For the first time Fowler revealed they had found not one, but three sites expected to yield skeletons of the fearsome tyrannosaurs.
“One of the new tyrannosaur sites has the potential to be really spectacular” Fowler said.
The Dickinson team has so far collected remains of both of the tyrannosaur’s feet, which were found articulated (bones connected together). Fowler thinks that there is a very good chance that a complete skeleton is preserved hidden under the mudstone. The other two tyrannosaur sites are disarticulated but have both yielded well preserved skull bones.
“When I started in Dickinson, I was asked to make the dinosaur museum into a world-class institution”, said Fowler, “Now we have some real world-class sites to work on: can you imagine what it would be like to have a real and unique tyrannosaur skeleton, let alone three, in the middle of the museum? That’s now possible.”
Other discoveries by the team included bonebeds of duckbill and horned dinosaurs. Freedman Fowler, an expert on duckbills, showed attendees a complete articulated arm of a small duckbill that will hopefully lead to a complete skeleton next summer.
The finds will keep the team busy for the next few years as they are collected and extracted from the rocky matrix surrounding the bones.
“It’s going to take a lot of work, and we’re hoping to find some support to help us out” said Fowler. “Next year, I’m expecting that the tyrannosaur skeletons might need to be airlifted out by helicopter, then we have years of work in the laboratory afterwards – we’re looking for volunteers interested in cleaning up dinosaur bones, and of course, there’s always a search for funding”.
Part of the relaunch as Badlands Dinosaur Museum includes a new membership program.
“Members can come in as often as they like to see progress on the new fossils and exhibits. There is also an opportunity for business sponsorships of individual displays, our Paleo Lab or collections space. We look at the launch of this new membership program as an invitation for folks to become stakeholders in the museum,” said Bob Fuhrman, museum director.
The presentation ended with a preview of some of the new exhibits which are being designed and installed, including an exhibit on dinosaur eggs, and an upcoming display on how dinosaurs used their claws – for which three new model dinosaurs are being constructed, complete with feathers, representing the latest research.
“The purpose of the field report evening was to share in some of the excitement that comes along at the initial discovery stage, it’s going to take years of work to collect and prepare these dinosaurs, but what an exciting beginning,” Fowler said.