New dinosaur exhibit seeks home at Grand Staircase
‘The richness of fossil species in southern Utah appears to be higher than elsewhere in North America’
Sep 13, 2018 | 613 views | 0 0 comments | 69 69 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A new species of dinosaur named Akainacephalus johnsoni has been discovered and announced in the Kaiparowits formation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument where it was found in Kane County. The find is revealing new details about the diversity and evolution of this group of armored dinosaurs, officials say. 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 building to house and showcase the fossils found in the region.

A Sept. 11 event at the Bureau of Land Management visitor center announced a partnership with Kane County and the Bureau of Land Management to develop exhibit space at the Kanab Center to display the finds. This is the 14th recently named dinosaur discovery from the area and officials hope that future scientific research in the paleontology field will continue. 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 those displays in a museum in the Kanab area and its more than four-million annual travelers.

Kane County Commissioner Dirk Clayson said local officials “want correct science exhibits that will be used for the enjoyment of not only the visitors, but also for the education and benefit of the scientific research being conducted on our public lands.” Clayson added, “The BLM building in Kanab currently has an operational laboratory facility now that we are hoping to expand 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.”

Akainacephalus 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 diversity of animals and plants living on Laramidia between 80-75 million years ago. The work highlights that nearly every species of dinosaur discovered in that area of Utah is new to science, including Akainacephalus.

“Our local experts and the discoveries they are unearthing are recognized as some of the best scientific exhibits in the world,” said Clayson. "It is time that we find a way to celebrate and display these discoveries locally. The local BLM paleontology staff and volunteers led by Alan Titus (monument paleontologist) are fantastic resourceful revered professionals. Kane County expresses our sincere gratitude to the local BLM office for their willingness to work on this partnership.”

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, Akainacephalus 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, local officials say. 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 Titus who said, “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.“

Titus says the Kaiparowits Plateau is one of the paleontological wonders of the world right now, and is one of the most exciting frontiers for dinosaur research. “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 to 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,” said Titus.

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