The first ever dinosaur discovered in Washington state

Washington’s first dinosaur bone displayed prodominately in the foyer of the Burke Museum at UW, May 21. (Photo by Joanna M. Kresge)

Sometimes, the best discoveries are found on accident. Such was the case with the Burke Museum’s paleontologists while in the San Juan Islands.

Via The Daily

Three years ago, they found an incomplete theropod femur. The fossil is only being displayed now because the paper written on it took a year and a half to complete, and the amount of time spent meticulously getting rocks and dirt out of the bone took just as long. 

Theropods are defined as carnivorous, bipedal dinosaurs. Some familiar examples are the velociraptor and the Tyrannosaurus rex.

This dinosaur find was a rare one.

“It’s like finding a wolf way out in the middle of the ocean, on the bottom,” said UW Biology graduate student Brandon Peecook.

The fossil record of the West Coast is very spotty, according to Peecook. Along the coast, there are only about 10 places for dinosaur bones, from Mexico all the way up to Alaska, he said.

This makes Washington the 37th state to have found a dinosaur bone under its grounds.

The unearthing happened in a single afternoon, according to Peecook. 

“We dug up the bone in between tides,” he said. 

Another person present during the discovery was Ron Eng, the Burke Museum’s geology collections manager.

“The dig took several hours of work,” Eng said. “[Fossils] are by definition embedded in rock.”

The fossil is approximately 80 million years old, according to a news release by the Burke, which means this dinosaur would have been roaming the earth during the Cretaceous period.

During this time period, however, most of Washington state was underwater, making the femur an oddity.

The marine animals of the time, the ones so frequently found in Washington state, were not technically dinosaurs. 

To be classified as a dinosaur, the animal must walk with an upright stance and be a terrestrial reptile. 

Peecook explained that sometimes carcasses can float out to sea during their bloated stage and end up washing ashore later. 

“Hippos can be found far from Africa because they get bloated,” Peecook said, explaining how some bones can be discovered in inexplicable or unusual places. “But this [dinosaur find] does not look like a float and boat.”

Peecook and Dr. Christian Sidor, the Burke’s curator of vertebrate paleontology, are studying the femur.

In comparing it to other fossils, they believe the complete femur would have been over three feet long, a little smaller than a T. rex’s.

“This fossil won’t win a beauty contest,” Sidor said in a press release. “But fortunately it preserves enough anatomy that we were able to compare it to other dinosaurs and be confident of its identification.”

Washington’s first dinosaur fossil has been on display in the Burke’s lobby since May 21.

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