Skeleton of dinosaur first unearthed 155 years ago now being excavated

Posted at 7:47 PM, Aug 28, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-29 11:07:39-04

MOAB, Utah – The first dinosaur remains in Utah were discovered 155 years ago, but because of the difficult terrain the dinosaur had never been fully excavated. But crews are now working to complete the excavation.

The dig site is along an exposed cliff face overlooking a valley, and paleontologists, like Rebecca Hunt-Foster, said excavating the dinosaur, a sauropod that roamed the area in the Jurassic Period, was a daunting task.

"It's definitely not an easy site, to get to," she said. "...It was lost, for over 120 years it was lost."

Hunt-Foster said they are taking old work and carrying it forward.

"We are excavating some bones that have been previously exposed, so I have a bone going on right here, and I just found one right here as well," she said as she worked at the excavation site.

Paleontologists are working to carefully remove the bones still encased in rock and will bring them back to the Natural History Museum for study and potentially display—though that would likely take several years. Volunteer Brian Switek said assembling a full dinosaur worth of remains for display is more difficult than Hollywood leads some to believe.

"You might not know this, but Jurassic Park was lying to you,” he said. “So even though we are working with very delicate tools at the moment, when we find dinosaurs, they are not typically all laid out in a nice, articulated string. It's not as if the dinosaur just laid down on its side and died and kept itself together for us over 160 million years later."

John Foster of the Museum of Moab said the man who first discovered the site couldn’t finish the excavation but hoped that others one day would be able to. It took 155 years for that to happen.

"But he does say the skeleton remains for a future geologist with more time and better tools than he had,” Foster said.

The dinosaur, a plant eater with a long neck, is, geologically speaking, the oldest sauropod in North America. FOX 13 News’ Ashton Goodell was in Moab as crews worked to excavate the dinosaur, see the video above for her report.