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CEU Museum Director, Associates Discover Large Armored Dinosaur Fossils

Sun Advocate publisher

College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum director Reese Barrick compares the front leg fossils from a Gastonia to the new specimen of armored dinosaur recently found during the dig at a quarry near Moab.

For a long time, the College of Eastern Utah had the distinction of finding the largest armored dinosaur fossils known to man.

Now, CEU has the right to claim that the distinction of finding the two largest armored dinosaurs that have ever been discovered.

About two weeks ago while digging in a quarry near Moab, CEU Prehistoric Museum director Reese Barrick, his associates and students from Purdue University found some leg fossils.

At first, the members of the crew thought that the front leg fossils were from a Super Notosaur, the largest armored dinosaur known to man.

But a comparison determinied that a fossil unearthed at the dig near Moab was 10 percent larger than the front leg of the Super Notosaur.

"With the size of that bone and some others we have found, we realized that this new find was very important," said Barrick . "This dinosaur was double the size and triple the weight of a Super Notosaur."

The find thrust the CEU Prehistoric Museum and Barrick into the national spotlight last week.

First KSL television picked up on the story, then CNN broadcast the KSL story nationwide last Tuesday.

On May 30, CNN sent a limosine for Barrick so he could be interviewed in Salt Lake City about the find.

"They spent that money and time to take me to Salt Lake for a two minute interview," noted Barrick. "And mostly, they wanted to talk about what the new dinosaur should be named."

Many people thought "tankosaurus" might be the right term to describe the huge dinosaur. Estimates are that the large animal may have weighed between five and six tons.

The prehistoric animal's body was covered with armor, so it was probably invulnerable to the attacks of meat eating dinosaurs, including the Utahraptors which lived about the same time.

"It probably could just hunker down and the attackers couldn't get through," stated Barrick.

However, that doesn't mean the animal wasn't in a few fights or didn't get hurt. The evidence of that lies in a three and a half foot rib bone that Barrick has in a sand display where it is being prepared.

Pointing to a thick spot in a fossil, CEU Prehistoric Museum director Reese Barrick indicates that the large armored dinosaur unearthed at a site near Moab suffered a broken rib at some time in the animal's life.

"See this," he pointed to a place where the rib was much thicker. "This is where a break took place at some time in the animal's life. Maybe it happened by accident or maybe it was during mating when it was fighting. Who knows."

The place where the bones were discovered was originally a quarry the University of Utah wanted to explore.

But the U of U turned the site over to CEU because the university lacked the manpower to dig at the quarry and at another nearby location at the same time.

"Utah has a quarter of all the known findings of armored dinosaurs and a lot of those fossils lie in the storage area of this lab," explained Barrick as he walked through the storage areas of the bone lab, where dozens and dozens of fossils lay in storage - some in cabinets and others out in the open.

"We keep running out of room to store the fossils. This was the original storage area. Now, we have a couple of other rooms and they are filling up fast," pointed out Barrick.

The lab at the college in Price currently has fossils from five different armored dinosaurs in storage.

The three most notable examples of historic animals which have fossils housed at the facility are the Gastonia, the Super Notosaur and the new discovery.

One of the things Barrick and many paleontologists are interested in is how the dinosaurs managed to grow as large as the prehistoric animals were in a hostile environment.

"People come here from other places to work on the digs and they always wonder how these animals could have lived in the desert," pointed out the CEU museum director. "The environment in this area at that time was very tropical, not desert."

The tropical environment contained a lot of dangers, yet some of the dinosaurs lived to be quite old.

"Each type of dinosaur had its own patterns of growth," pointed out Barrick. "But fossils show lines of arrested growth and we can tell a lot about the age of a dinosaur by those."

The lines of arrested growth in the individual dinosaurs can be calculated much like the rings can tell a tree's age, according to the CEU museum director.

But the question also comes up about whether planet rotation and trips around the sun were the same 125 million years ago. Could a "ring" mean a growth period of a longer time or shorter time than it would today?

"Four hundred million years ago a year was about 400 days long," pointed out Barrick. "At 125 million years, it was about 370 days, not much different than what we see today."

To date, the paleontologists and assistants have uncovered 25 fossils from the previously unknown specimen.

The CEU museum director indicated that he thinks a total of approximately 200 fossils would need to be found in order to assemble the creature into a complete skeleton.

"The interesting thing about these armored dinosaurs we have been finding is that they are much bigger than their previously judged metabolism would have allowed them to be," said Barrick.

"Some dinosaurs have a high growth metabolism where everything they eat goes to growth," continued the CEU museum director. "We have always considered these guys to have a low metabolic rate like sloths and lizards. To get this big, they would have to have a higher metabolism than we have previously thought."

Like a murder mystery, the clues paleontologist remove from the ground tend to lead to more questions until, finally, something comes along and explains a situation. And there are always more discoveries to be made.

During the last 50 years, paleontology has made leaps and bounds in the growth of knowledge, with scientists from China to South America working in quarries and labs to come up with answers. However, many questions remain unanswered.

"We don't have a lot of answers yet. But we may, someday, be able to come up with how these specimens came to be so large," concluded Barrick.

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