Credit: Katie Thoresen, NPS
The National Park Service and paleontologists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks have discovered the first known dinosaur bone fossils in Denali National Park and Preserve during an expedition in July. Until this point, only fossilized dinosaur tracks had been located in the Park (perhaps due to the acidic composition of the environment, which tends to dissolve fossil remains). The team also uncovered several new dinosaur tracks on the expedition.
Pat Druckenmiller, curator of earth sciences at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, and leader of the collaborative project with Denali stated that: “(Denali) is a world-class site for tracks of dinosaurs and other animals that lived in Alaska during the Cretaceous Period. Now that we have found bones, we have another way to understand the dinosaurs that lived here 70 million years ago.”
Specifically, the team found four different fragments, the largest of which is just a few inches long. Because they are parts of much bigger bones, Druckenmiller said more complete remains may be found in the park. “Finding these bones opens a new chapter in the story of Denali dinosaurs. That story is still being written as we find new sites, new kinds of dinosaurs and evidence of their behavior.”
Prior to 2005, there was no known dinosaur record in Denali, but in that year the first track was discovered in the Cantwell Formation, near Igloo Creek. Since then thousands of tracks have been found - but no bone remains.
Park geologist Denny Capps poetically observed that while Denali National Park was created to protect the present intact ecosystem, we now know that it also protects an ancient ecosystem: “Visitors could discover a fresh bear track next to a 70-million-year-old dinosaur track or potentially even a bone. Thankfully, these resources are protected within the Denali wilderness for all to enjoy.”
Further analysis is being conducted to determine which species the bone fragments belong to, but the leading theory is that they came from a large ornithopod dinosaur, likely a hadrosaur (duck-billed, herbivorous dinosaurs such as these are believed to have been common in the area during this time period).