Paleontological Treasure Chest
A new species of dinosaur named Akainacephalus johnsoni has been discovered and announced in the Kaiparowits Formation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM), where it was found in Kane County, Utah. The find is revealing new details about the diversity and evolution of this group of armored dinosaurs. This area of Kane County has yielded a high number of dinosaur discoveries, and there is a need and local desire to develop a facility and museum at the Kanab Center, a community center building to house and showcase the fossils found in the region.
Governor Gary Herbert, along with representatives from the BLM, local elected officials, community leaders, and many others, were welcomed at the GSENM BLM Visitor Center in Big Water, on September 11, 2018 to announce a partnership between Kane County, and the BLM to develop exhibit space at the Kanab Center, to display these exciting finds. This is the 14th recently named dinosaur discovery from the area and it is anticipated that a rich future of scientific research in the paleontology field continues. The BLM regularly works with universities and researchers on these world-renowned unique discoveries. Currently, the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, houses many of the discoveries, and this effort seeks to augment these displays in a museum for the local population of the Kanab area, and for the over 4 million travelers who visit the area each year to enjoy.
Kane County Commissioner Dirk Clayson said, “We are excited for this exciting opportunity and we look forward to implementing a true to correct science exhibit that will be used for the enjoyment of not only the visitors, but also for the educational and scientific research being conducted on our public lands.” Clayson went on to say, “The BLM building in Kanab, currently has an operational laboratory facility now and we are hoping to expand the operation with a new facility. Expanded facilities exhibiting these incredible findings will be a great community asset and we are excited about the many opportunities this initiative will provide.”
From the Late Cretaceous to today
Akainacephalusis is the most complete Late Cretaceous ankylosaurid dinosaur discovered from Utah and the southwestern U.S., and is distinguished by a number of unique features, including spikes and cones of the bony exterior covering the head and snout. The dinosaur is part of a growing number of new dinosaur discoveries over the past 15 years demonstrating the incredible diversity of animals and plants living on Laramidia between 80-75 million years ago. One of the most exciting conclusions from this work highlights nearly every species of dinosaur discovered in GSENM is new to science, and Akainacephalusis is no exception.
Commissioner Clayson also said, “Our local experts and the discoveries they are unearthing are recognized as some of the best scientific exhibits in the world. It is time that we find a way to celebrate and display these discoveries locally. The local BLM Paleontology staff and volunteers led by Dr. Alan Titus, are fantastic resourceful revered professionals. Kane County expresses our sincere gratitude to the Local BLM office for their willingness to work on this partnership.”
Many new dinosaur species have been discovered in Utah
Since 2005, 14 new species of dinosaurs have been named from the Kaiparowits Plateau region, Hagryphus giganteus, Gryposaurus monumentensis, Nothronychus graffami, Diabloceratops eatoni, Utahceratops gettyi, Kosmoceratops richardsoni, Teratophoneus curriei, Nasutoceratops titusi, Talos sampsoni, Lythronax argestes, Machairoceratops cronusi, Adelolophus hutchisoni, Acristavus gaglarsoni, and most recently, Akainocephalus johnsoni. That’s an average of slightly more than one per year, which is as high a rate of discovery of new dinosaurs anywhere in the world. Several more discoveries will be published or submitted within the next two or three years, including a new armored dinosaur, two new horned dinosaurs, a new dome headed dinosaur (Pachycephalosaur), a tiny new plant eater (Hypsilophodont), a new species of Hadrosaur, and possibly a new Tyrannosaur.
Much of the research is coordinated through Alan Titus, GSENM Paleontologist, who stated, “we’ve also found some pretty bizarre non-dinosaur animals including six foot diameter lake turtles, armored giant tortoises with eggs preserved inside them, 35 foot-long alligators, and land dwelling crocodiles. The richness of fossil species in southern Utah appears to be higher than elsewhere in North American (at the same time), and it seems the place was an ecological paradise, with a warm tropical climate and plentiful rain. These finds are changing how we see the dinosaur world, indicating it was more diverse and complex in North America than previously thought.“
The Kaiparowits Plateau is truly one of the paleontological wonders of the world right now, and certainly is one of the most exciting frontiers for dinosaur research.
Bringing more research and awareness to the Kaiparowits Plateau is key
Titus also said, “So few people know about the discoveries because there is no place outside of Salt Lake City to see all these exciting finds on display. Because so many larger animals have now been, or soon will be, named, it is high time for visitors to southern Utah have a place where they can experience the same wonder and awe, that to date, has largely only been felt by the specialists who make these discoveries.“
Full mounted skeletons of the great beasts that once lived in Southern Utah during the zenith of the dinosaur age would be an amazing asset to the area and could potentially serve as a major economic engine, potentially attracting tens of thousands of visitors.