First dinosaur bones found in Denali National Park

October 18, 2016

Paleontologists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Park Service found the first dinosaur bones in Denali National Park during an expedition in July. They also discovered several new dinosaur trackways, which are fossilized impressions left by ancient animals walking through mud that eventually became rock.

Pat Druckenmiller, curator of Earth sciences at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, is leading a collaborative project with Denali National Park over the next several years to explore additional areas and make new discoveries.

"This marks the beginning of a multi-year project to locate, document and study dinosaur fossils in Denali National Park," Druckenmiller said. "This 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."

The research team found four different fragments, including one ossified tendon. The largest is a few inches long. They are clearly parts of bigger bones from a large animal. This rules out other animals with a backbone known from this geological period, including mammals, birds and even flying reptiles. Because they are parts of much bigger bones, Druckenmiller expects more complete remains may be found in the park.

"Finding these bones opens a new chapter in the story of Denali dinosaurs," he said. "That story is still being written as we find new sites, new kinds of dinosaurs and evidence of their behavior."

Before 2005, there was no known dinosaur record in Denali. That year, UAF students discovered the first track in the Cantwell Formation near Igloo Creek. Since then paleontologists have catalogued thousands of tracks. Still, this is the first time scientists have found identifiable bones left by animals that populated the area during the Late Cretaceous Period.

Park geologist Denny Capps said Denali National Park was created to protect the present intact ecosystem 99 years ago.

"We now know that it protects an ancient ecosystem, as well," Capps said. "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."

Heather MacFarlane, a UA Museum of the North research assistant, discovered the first bone. She and other researchers recognized the fragments as bones rather than sedimentary material based on the surface and internal structure. These fossils closely resemble other plant-eating dinosaur bones found in Alaska.

Paleontologist Cassi Knight, physical science technician for Denali National Park, was with MacFarlane when the discovery was made.

"It is significant because it answers a question that has been standing for the past 11 years; 'Are there dinosaur bones preserved in the Cantwell Formation?'" Knight said. "We have a great record of dinosaurs inhabiting this area, and now we finally know that their bones are preserved, too."

Gregory Erickson, a Florida State University researcher who specializes in the use of bone and tooth histology to interpret the paleobiology of dinosaurs, was also part of the discovery team. He is preparing thin sections of some of the fossils. Scientists can examine these delicate slices under high-powered microscopes to determine the type of animal that left the bones behind. Annual growth lines and other patterns can also reveal the animal's age.

Based on the shape and structure of the fossilized tendon discovered by the team, Erickson and Druckenmiller determined that it is from a large ornithopod dinosaur, probably a hadrosaur. These duck-billed, herbivorous dinosaurs were probably the most abundant large animals in Alaska. They were also the primary track-makers in the park during this time period.

Another larger fragment is composed of spongy bone originating from the end of a large animal's limb. This microstructure shows the bone didn't come from a crocodile or other slow-growing, cold-blooded animal. It is clearly from a medium-sized to large dinosaur, they said.

Druckenmiller and Erickson previously published documentation suggesting that during this time period, a distinct, polar fauna existed in what is now Alaska. Then, a polar forest covered the Arctic because the climate was much warmer. The dinosaurs had to contend with months of winter darkness and cooler temperatures than environments typically associated with dinosaurs.
-end-
ADDITIONAL CONTACTS: Pat Druckenmiller, UAMN curator of earth sciences, 907-474-6954 (office), 907-799-9608 (cell) or psdruckenmiller@alaska.edu; Denny Capps, Denali National Park geologist, 907-683-9598 or denny_capps@nps.gov; Cassi Knight, Denali National Park physical science technician, 907-683-9591 or cassi_knight@nps.gov.

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS AND VIDEO: http://bit.ly/denalidinobones

University of Alaska Fairbanks

Related Dinosaurs Articles from Brightsurf:

Ireland's only dinosaurs discovered in antrim
The only dinosaur bones ever found on the island of Ireland have been formally confirmed for the first time by a team of experts from the University of Portsmouth and Queen's University Belfast, led by Dr Mike Simms, a curator and palaeontologist at National Museums NI.

Baby dinosaurs were 'little adults'
Paleontologists at the University of Bonn (Germany) have described for the first time an almost complete skeleton of a juvenile Plateosaurus and discovered that it looked very similar to its parents even at a young age.

Bat-winged dinosaurs that could glide
Despite having bat-like wings, two small dinosaurs, Yi and Ambopteryx, struggled to fly, only managing to glide clumsily between the trees where they lived, according to a new study led by an international team of researchers, including McGill University Professor Hans Larsson.

Some dinosaurs could fly before they were birds
New research using the most comprehensive study of feathered dinosaurs and early birds has revised the evolutionary relationships of dinosaurs at the origin of birds.

Tracking Australia's gigantic carnivorous dinosaurs
North America had the T. rex, South America had the Giganotosaurus and Africa the Spinosaurus - now evidence shows Australia had gigantic predatory dinosaurs.

Ancient crocodiles walked on two legs like dinosaurs
An international research team has been stunned to discover that some species of ancient crocodiles walked on their two hind legs like dinosaurs and measured over three metres in length.

Finding a genus home for Alaska's dinosaurs
A re-analysis of dinosaur skulls from northern Alaska suggests they belong to a genus Edmontosaurus, and not to the genus recently proposed by scientists in 2015.

Can we really tell male and female dinosaurs apart?
Scientists worldwide have long debated our ability to identify male and female dinosaurs.

In death of dinosaurs, it was all about the asteroid -- not volcanoes
Volcanic activity did not play a direct role in the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs, according to an international, Yale-led team of researchers.

Discriminating diets of meat-eating dinosaurs
A big problem with dinosaurs is that there seem to be too many meat-eaters.

Read More: Dinosaurs News and Dinosaurs Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.