Thursday 25 March 2010

New dinosaur found in Utah unveiled to public

New dinosaur found in Utah unveiled to public
March 24th, 2010 @ 3:56pm
By John Hollenhorst

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah scientists announced the discovery of a new dinosaur species. They've named it after a legendary monster and a legendary missing person.

Utah has seen a wave of new dinosaur discoveries over the last few years. But this one stands out because of its desert location, which is exciting to scientists, and because of its unusual name.

What is... Seitaad ruessi?
Seitaad ruessi, from the Early Jurassic period, is a plant-eating dinosaur that lived 185 million years ago among Utah's red Rocks. It was excavated from the Navajo Sandstone of Comb Ridge just northwest of Bluff. It stood an estimated 3 to 4 feet tall at the hips and was 10 to 15 feet long with a body size of a sheep, but with a long neck and tail. It weighed about 150 to 200 pounds.

It was unveiled at the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah for an admiring audience.

Jacqui Robb, a student of Orchard Elementary School in West Valley City, said, "I think it's pretty cool."

Classmate Josh Johnson said he was excited to come to the museum, "because it's dinosaur bones, and I want to be a paleontologist when I grow up."

The new dinosaur has a tongue-twisting name: Seitadd ruessi. And it has an interesting history, 185 million years ago.

Paleontologist Mark Loewen with the Utah Museum of Natural History said, "Utah was covered with a giant Sahara-like desert at this time, and this is one of the few animals that have been found worldwide from that giant desert."

What happened to... Seitaad ruessi?
Research suggests that the Seitaad ruessi was buried in a suddenly collapsing sand dune that engulfed the remains and stood them on their head. The missing parts of the skeleton were lost to erosion over thousands of years, but were likely visible when Native Americans lived on the cliff just above the skeleton.

It was found beneath a Native American ruin in southeastern Utah at Comb Ridge just northwest of Bluff, a shadow of the ancient past preserved in Navajo Sandstone.

Discoverer Joe Pachak reported it to authorities instead of taking it for himself.

Scott Foss, a paleontologist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, said, "If somebody had just found this fossil and chiseled it out of the ground, first of all there's a great chance they would have destroyed it. Secondly, that would have been illegal."

Seitadd ruessi is the ancestor of many familiar long-necked dinosaurs. When it died, its body was swallowed by a sand dune, which later became part of the vast Navajo Sandstone formation visible today in much of southern Utah.

"Thousands of people have hiked in the Navajo formation, and this is the first dinosaur that's ever been found in Utah in that formation," Loewen said.

What's in a name?
Seitaad ruessi derived from the Navajo word, "Seit'aad," a sand-desert monster from Navajo legend that swallowed its victims in sand dunes and Ruess, after the artist, poet, naturalist and explorer Everett Ruess who disappeared in the red rock country of southern Utah in 1934 at age 20.

Because it lived in a desert environment, scientists have given it a name that's partly based on an old Navajo legend.

"Seit'aad is a mythical sand dune monster that swallows its victims in sands," Loewen said. "And then the other part of the species name, ruessi, is named after Everett Ruess, who wandered the Utah region in the ‘30s and disappeared in the red rock country."

Wednesday, KSL spoke with a nephew of Everett Ruess. He said, "We think it's neat" that the dinosaur is named after their long-lost relative, a "fitting tribute" to Everett Ruess.


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