Bentonville — As workers were making improvements to Crystal Bridges’ trails last week, an unexpected discovery forced them to halt all construction while scientists study the find. A backhoe operator was moving earth near the site of a new elevator tower under construction on the museum grounds when his bucket turned up the fossilized shoulder bone of an early Cretaceous dinosaur known as Arkansaurus fridayi.
Arkansaurus was first discovered in Lockesburg, Arkansas, in 1972, but has made more recent headlines when it was named the official State Dinosaur of Arkansas earlier this year. Up to now, only one example of the species had been found in the state. The Crystal Bridges find brings that number up to ten or more.
Construction work was halted when the fossil was discovered, and paleontologists were called in to identify the bones. Subsequent excavation at the site have now turned up additional fragments of as many as nine individual Arkansaurus specimens, and additional discoveries related provide evidence of additional dinosaurs living in this region.
Once the first specimens had been removed from the museum grounds, scientists began working to extract the fossilized bones from the rocky matrix in which they had been imprisoned for more than 100 million years, using brushes and small dental tools to gently chip the rock and dirt away from the bones. During this process, they made a startling discovery: embedded deep in one of the vertebra of the Arkansaur’s neck was the broken tooth of an extremely large theropod, a group of dinosaurs that includes large carnivores such as Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus.
Paleontologist Jess Kidden, who specializes in theropods, visited the lab to inspect the tooth, and has determined that it is, in fact, the tooth of an enormous meat-eating dinosaur of a type heretofore unknown to science.
Paleontologist Ima Fakir provides possible explanations as to why so many specimens of Arkansaurus would be found in a single location. “It’s possible the dinosaurs were herded into this narrow ravine,” he said. “This new dinosaur might be working cooperatively with others, or it could be a highly intelligent therapod−much more intelligent than we had previously believed any dinosaur could be.”
The scientists working on the find have dubbed the new dinosaur Saurocrystallus bridgii, in honor of the location of its discovery. Excavations are ongoing on the site, as paleontologists continue to find additional fossils.
Crystal Bridges is quickly exploring ways to make the dinosaur discovery accessible to museum visitors. Plans are underway for a glass-bottomed bridge which will span the dig site, allowing visitors to observe the ongoing excavation in process through the summer. In addition, paleontologists and artists are working with a firm specializing in dinosaur reconstruction, to develop a life-sized cast of Saurocrystalus to be installed on the museum grounds next summer, and plans are underway to construct a special Dinosaur Art pavilion at the site to celebrate artworks inspired by the discovery.
“Of course we’re excited about the dinosaur find,” said Rod Bigelow, executive director of Crystal Bridges. “Dinosaur art is a traditionally underappreciated aspect of contemporary artistic practice, but we mean to change that in the next year.”
The dig-site observation bridge, dinosaur sculpture, and Dinosaur Art pavilion will be free to the public.
Yes, I’m sorry to report that there are, in fact, no dinosaur fossils at Crystal Bridges.
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