By Leo Wolfson
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CODY – A brachiosaur stretches its long neck to reach a leaf from a high branch as a giant ichthyosaur gently swims by in the water far below.
This scene likely played out in the Big Horn Basin millions of years ago.
Paleontologists will be descending on Cody this summer to investigate what scientists are describing as a “Jurassic Mile” in the Basin, a fossil-rich plot of land hosting a slew of specimens, including an 80-foot-long brachiosaur, a 90-foot diplodocid and many other bones, track ways and fossilized plants.
Professor and chair of natural history Phil Manning and research fellow Dr. Victoria Egerton, both of the University of Manchester in England and scientists in-residence at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, will be leading the dig, the museum recently announced.
The museum will bring in more than 100 scientists to investigate the treasure trove of Jurassic-period fossils.
“It’s really exciting that this slice of Jurassic time in Wyoming is being opened up by a team of international scientists,” Manning said. “I’m really hoping that we’re going to see some things from the Jurassic that are totally new to science.”
Four main quarries can be found at the site which scientists believe will provide a clearer picture into the late Jurassic period that existed around 150 million years ago. The exact location of the multi-level, 640-acre plot of land has not been released to prevent against looters and crowds.
Evidence shows the Jurassic Mile site hosted a water source and various vegetation at one time. Scientists said the Jurassic period terrain was made up by a large floodplain leading to tidal flats on the shore of an inland sea. Along the shoreline, dinosaur tracks have been found in a fossilized form.
“There are not very many places in the world where you can do field work where you can literally step a few hundred meters and be in completely different parts of not only the time column, but also completely different environments,” said Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum in London.
Nearly 600 specimens have been found at the dry and dusty site already, which has been analyzed for the last two years. A 5-foot, 1-inch brachiosaur femur and 6-foot, 6-inch brachiosaur scapula are just some of the ancient fossils recovered so far.
The fossilized tracks also provide a looking glass into dinosaur characteristics like behavior and how fast they walked.
It is still unknown how some plant-eating dinosaurs reached their large sizes without the presence of nutritious flowering plants. Egerton hopes by studying ancient conifers, firs and gingkos, the answer may be found.
“Maybe these plants can give us a clue as to why these dinosaurs got to be so big,” Egerton said.
Wyoming as a whole offers one of the richest sources of dinosaur fossils in the nation with many major discoveries found in the sedimentary rock of the Morrison Formation.
“The most exciting thing for me is to be able to go out to Wyoming, a place that I love,” said Dr. Susannah Maidment, of the Natural History Museum in London. “It’s the center of my field area in which I do a huge amount of research.”
The museum has devoted $27.5 million to the project that will be showcased at its facility in Indiana when completed in a Mission Jurassic exhibit.