Museum palaeontologists to join dino dig in Wyoming, USA
This year, palaeontologists from the Museum will fly out to Wyoming, USA, to join a team excavating a rich Jurassic dinosaur bone bed in the extraordinary Morrison Formation.
Researchers from the Museum will be joining those from The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the University of Manchester and Naturalis Biodiversity Centre, Netherlands, to explore a series of new sites in northern Wyoming.
It is hoped that the Mission Jurassic team will uncover a rich Jurassic assemblage of dinosaur bones, in addition to the
The site, known as the Jurassic Mile, is spread over roughly 2.6 square
Fossils have included a striking
Prof Paul Barrett, a Merit Researcher at the Museum who will be co-leading some of the excavations at the dig, says, 'The interesting thing about this site is that it is near the northern limit of the Morrison Formation.
'This is an area that hasn't been as extensively studied as the southern parts in Utah and Colorado. The hope is to find new material of previously described species and - if we're lucky - new species of dinosaurs and the animals and plants that lived around them.'
Dr Susannah Maidment, a Museum expert on armoured dinosaurs and dinosaur evolution, will also be co-leading some of the
A dinosaur graveyard
The dig will take place on a patch of land in Wyoming that is covered in part by rocks of the Morrison Formation.
This is a thick set of sedimentary rocks stretching from southern Canada in the north to New Mexico in the south. The Morrison Formation contains a rich series of fossils from the Late Jurassic, which
The breadth of these fossils has been such that researchers have been able to paint a detailed picture of what the environment was like in this region at the time.
During this period flowering plants had yet to evolve, meaning that conifer trees were the dominant plants in the landscape, along with ginkgos, cycads, ferns
It is thought that these plants grew along the banks of rivers and wetlands, which once
One of the main interests in the formation, however, comes from its wealth of dinosaur fossils, including some of the best-known American species.
These range from small animals such as Fruitadens to some of the biggest such as Stegosaurus, Diplodocus
In addition to the fossil bones found within the Morrison Formation, there are also numerous track sites, preserved after dinosaurs wandered across the wet ground over 145 million years ago.
The Jurassic Mile contains not only large vertebrate
Prof Richard Herrington, the Museum's Acting Director of Science, says, 'This site offers a rare opportunity to build a picture of what the real Jurassic ecosystem would have looked like 150 million years ago - by unearthing not only dinosaurs but the diversity of life that surrounded them, from plants and invertebrates to ancient crocodiles, mammals, lizards
This new project will aim to bring together the expertise from the three institutions to help add to our knowledge of this region during the Late Jurassic.
The Middle Jurassic saw
These two new supercontinents were huge, and there are suggestions that even within these landmasses the distances were so great that species were continuing to diverge from each other. The dig in northern Wyoming may help to answer some of these questions.
'There is a hint that the dinosaurs you get at the northern end of the Morrison Formation are different from those that you get at the southern end,' explains Paul. 'There may be different species, as it looks like they might have been living in slightly different environments.
'One of the things we're looking to test by excavating this site is if there actually are distinct species in this region, and whether it could be some sort of latitudinal divergence that might be influencing what species of dinosaurs you get there.'
Heading out at the beginning of June, the Museum researchers plan on spending a month excavating the site.