Fossils discovered at St. George construction site

Posted at 10:16 PM, Sep 16, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-17 00:16:55-04

ST. GEORGE - Paleontologists in St. George are sifting through thousands of fossils, all recovered from the construction site of the Southern Parkway. And some may point to the discovery of a new dinosaur species.

Even before construction began on the Southern Parkway, Utah Department of Transportation officials knew there was the potential for fossils along the proposed route. But when paleontologists actually got out there and started digging, they were surprised at how many they actually found.

“When I started this project, I thought it was going to be a small job,” said paleontologist Andrew Milner. “It just turned into this monster, because of the sites that we discovered.”

Milner and his team are working through thousands of fossils. The fossils are made up of tracks, plants and bones. There were 10 known sites for fossils along the Southern Parkway route, but when they started digging, they found four additional areas.

“We’ve recorded over 600 sites now in Washington County alone,” says Milner. “Most of them are tracks. So it’s nice to actually get some body fossils of a reptile that probably made some of these footprints.”

The fossils date back to the Jurassic period, about 190 million years. Among them are teeth. Milner says those are the most significant find unlike any seen before.

“We’ve collected about 100 reptile teeth from the site,” Milner said. “Four of these seven reptile teeth, the shapes are completely new to science. I’ve shown them to paleontologists who specialize in late Triassic, and early Jurassic reptiles and they all agree four of these are totally new.”

Milner says it’s still too early to tell if the teeth belong to a new kind of dinosaur, but the discovery gives insight into the type of world the reptiles lived in.

The discovery wasn’t enough to halt construction on the parkway. Earlier this year archeologists also discovered ancient Native American artifacts. UDOT regional director Dana Meier says that’s the bad, and the good of going on with the project.

“We know that they’re there and we know that they’re protected,” Meier said. “So at some point we could potentially go out and maybe re-route the road, if it was that important to find out what’s there. So, it’s not like we’ve lost them. We haven’t destroyed them.

Milner says they still have a couple of years of work left to do, cleaning up all those fossils, categorizing them, and trying to put together that picture of the Jurassic Period to determine if these are a new species.