Dinosaur Fossils: The Missouri archaeological site is home to at least 4 rare dinosaurs, and there could be more

After comparing and matching the tail vertebrates of these discoveries, paleontologists described them as “relatively primitive” duck-billed dinosaurs.

The specimen of the Missouri state dinosaur called Parrosaurus missouriensis was unearthed after a year-long process that began in 2017, said Peter Makovicky, curator of the Chronister site. Makovicky is Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Minnesota.

“Anytime you find a place in the Midwest or eastern North America with multiple dinosaur skeletons from one place, it’s really a godsend with no parallels,” he said.

Fossils are rare in Missouri – the Chronister site, a few dozen acres of forest near Bollinger County, Missouri, is the only place where fossils have been found in Missouri, according to Erika Woehlk, visual archivist at the Missouri State Archives. Most of the dinosaurs in the United States have been found in the west.

“Nobody thought there were dinosaurs in Missouri. It is simply unknown to find dinosaur fossils in this part of the country,” said Abigail Kern, office director of the Sainte Genevieve Museum Learning Center in Missouri.

But this site is rich.

In discovering the dinosaur, Makovicky and his team found several turtle fossils that paint a more complete picture of the ancient ecosystem. Paleontologists have also found parts of at least four different dinosaurs, Makovicky said, including an adolescent dinosaur of the same species found in the early 2000s.

The largest block of the dinosaur – 2,500 pounds (1,134 kilograms) – was excavated on October 15 with the help of a crane. The fossil will be sent to the Field Museum in Chicago for preparation and research.

A fossil site that has been found for decades

The fossils found in the 1940s were sent to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The site remained stagnant until the 1980s when renewed interest in the fossils led Missouri paleontologist Bruce Stinchcomb to purchase the property from the Chronicles.

Scientists debated the genus of this fossil for decades. In 2018, paleontologists landed on the original genus Parrosaurus, which was coined in 1945. This dinosaur has been reclassified four times, but Woehlk said reclassification isn’t that uncommon.

Wet clay at the excavation site and the pandemic made the four-year process difficult and prolonged, Makovicky said. He’s more used to digging fossils out of hard rock, so the team had to slowly work around the softer clay.

The excavation team is shown with the dinosaur's largest block - 2,500 pounds - which was removed with the help of a crane on October 15th.

With the site’s observations and finds, paleontologists can better understand the ancient surroundings – and assess areas for further research and excavation.

Makovicky said they are still determining the exact ages of these fossils and learning more about the distribution of dinosaurs in North America.

“There’s just so much more to learn about these ancient environments and how they relate to our knowledge of ecosystems and evolution,” he said.

The learning center of the Sainte Genevieve Museum houses the young specimen and its laboratory is open to the public. From December, museum visitors can watch paleontologists and other scientists prepare the fossils, Kern said.

With fossils hard to come by in the Midwest, Kern hopes these rare discoveries will delight children with archeology and geology.

“We’re a very small town in rural Missouri, so we’re excited to bring this level of science to our city and help spread all of the communities and schools around us,” said Kern named.


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