American National Park gets its very own Dinosaur
A Dinosaur skull discovered in the American National Park called the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, has been re-examined and declared a new species previously unknown to science. A partial skull was discovered in the late 19th Century within the park boundaries, it had originally been labelled as a Camptosaurus, but like a lot of Camptosaur material it has been reclassified. Much of what scientists thought of as Camptosaur fossils have been reassessed and identified as Iguanodontid.
The Colorado Springs fossil has been named Theiophytalia kerri, the name loosely translated means “belonging to the Garden of the Gods”. The species name has been taken in honour of James Hutchinson Kerr, a professor of geology who was credited with the fossil discovery.
The Garden of the Gods is a 1,300 acre national park, famous for its fantastic sandstone and limestone formations that between them cover something like 300 million years of Earth’s history. This new dinosaur has been named by vertebrate palaeontologist Ken Carpenter, of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. From skull bones a lot of information can be obtained, skull bones are very diagnostic of dinosaur genera. The Garden of the God’s skull indicates an Ornithopod like Camptosaurus but it is sufficiently different to merit being classified as a different dinosaur genus. It has been estimated that the animal was approximately 8-9 metres long and probably an adult (fused skull bones indicate a mature animal).
“I think it’s fun that Garden of the Gods has its very own dinosaur,” commented Bonnie Frum, the Director of the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Centre, where a replica of the skull is on display.
It is not clear from which part of the park the skull was found, records of fossil excavations in the late 19th Century, were at best sparse, some sites were not recorded at all. James Hutchinson Kerr’s hand-written account is the only note of the fossil find and unfortunately the actual location was not recorded.
The notes, which can be viewed at the National Park’s Visitor Centre, provide only a limited amount of information:
“In 1878, I discovered in one of the ridges, east of the red rocks forming the east boundary of the Garden of the Gods, portions of 21 different sea monsters that had been caught as in a basin in one of Earth’s early paroxysms”.
The sediments to the east of the Park represent marine environments, fossil shells can still be found in the mesas in this area. Perhaps, this dinosaur was washed out to sea and became preserved as a fossil in marine strata. Other dinosaur fossils have been found in marine sediments, most famously Scelidosaurus, which is known from the early Jurassic strata of Lyme Regis.
To read more about Scelidosaurus: Britain’s most complete Dinosaur Fossil Discovered to Date ready for Display
It is thought that Theiophytalia kerri lived during the early Cretaceous, approximately 125 million years ago. A herbivore, it would probably have lived in herds close to a large sea that covered much of the southern USA and the Gulf of Mexico. This sea was part of the Tethys ocean soon to become part of the newly formed Atlantic.
The Garden of the Gods was named in 1859, surveyors from Denver looking to locate a new town in the state, came across the strange red sandstone rock formations and declared it being a place fit for Gods to assemble. The name stuck and the area has been called the Garden of the Gods ever since.
The Garden of the Gods Park is a registered National Natural Landmark in Colorado Springs. It is open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. in the summer and 5 a.m. to 9 p.m during the winter months. It is famous for its beautiful and strange-looking geological formations made up of ancient sedimentary beds of red and white sandstones and limestone. The layers of rock have been raised into vertical columns by faulting and are subject to substantial erosion, so more fossils may be found in the future.
Some of the Spectacular Red Sandstone Formations of the Park
Picture Credit: website of the Garden of the Gods