Imagine waiting to see if a fossil expedition turns up new fossil discoveries. The team of scientists makes calculated guesses where new fossils can be found. What are the chances a new dinosaur skeleton will be found? Even more important, how will they analyze the fossils that are recovered? It makes me wonder, are dinosaur fossils still being found in the world today?
Yes, new dinosaur fossils are being discovered every year. In 2020 and 2021, significant finds were made in China, Australia, North & South America, and Africa. Interestingly, new analyses of previously found fossils have led to “discoveries” of new species and new insights.
Dinosaurs are always known as one of the main focuses of scientists because their ways of life still mesmerize people of all ages. So many paleontologists have invested so much time and effort in studying their ways of life.
They used new technologies and innovations to ensure that they get the most accurate results to help them understand how they lived on Earth back then. Therefore, the innovations and technologies are being applied to get the fastest and the best results, saving them lots of time and effort.
This article will discuss where the newest dinosaur discoveries were found recently and the places in the United States where many dinosaur discoveries were seen, including the famous Morrison Formation.
This article will discuss the different technologies scientists and paleontologists use in studying dinosaurs based on their fossils and bones discovered.
From Where Are New Dinosaur Fossils Being Found?
Dinosaur discoveries are always continuous, with scientists finding the rarest fossils and dinosaur bones in unexpected places.
New Dinosaur Species Discovered in China
New dinosaur species were found in China last August 13, 2020, in the country’s northwestern part. This part has never had any dinosaur discoveries before the discovery last August 13, which is surprising to the paleontologists working in the area.
In Xinjiang, the Turpan-Hami Basin has been a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils to paleontologists in the area, such as several preserved eggs, embryos, flying pterosaurs, and fossil fragments of different body parts such as rib cages and spinal vertebrae.
The recently discovered species were not known to the scientists initially. Of these species, three fossils dated to about 120 million to 130 million years old, from the early Cretaceous period.
However, the National Museum of Brazil researchers have collaborated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to determine that two unknown fossils were from the Silutitan, a previously unknown dinosaur species.
These dinosaurs were eventually classified as sauropods, having long necks and tails and one of the world’s largest herbivorous dinosaurs. The Silutitan comes from the Chinese word for silk (silu) and titan, emphasizing its massive size. Silu comes from the Silk Road, where it was estimated to be discovered. The species is estimated to be over 20 meters or 65.6 feet long.
According to the researchers, the fossils belonged to the Euhelopodidae, another family of sauropods discovered only in East Asia. The other species was called the Hamititan specimen, measuring 17 meters or 55.77 feet long, related to the place where it was discovered — Xinjiang. The species have similar characteristics similar to the sauropods found in South America.
The other unknown species was a somphospondylan sauropod, which lived from the Late Jurassic to the late Cretaceous period. Earlier this year, they also discovered a new species of pterosaur in the Hubei province. It was described as having wide eyes and a “goofy grin,” according to the scientists.
Another discovery led to the world’s first dinosaur fossil found sitting on a nest of eggs, this time in the Ganzhou area. It was determined to be an oviraptorosaur, a bird-like animal that roamed the Earth more than 66 million years ago.
However, what baffles the scientists the most is how a South American dinosaur reached Asia? The scientists are still solving that mystery, but the discoveries remain a feat for Asian scientists.
Dinosaur Discoveries in the Land Down Under
Meanwhile, in Australia, fossils belonging to a very rare dinosaur species were found in May 2020. The fossil was identified as a rare, toothless dinosaur called the elaphrosaur, related to the T-rex and the Velociraptor, and roamed around Australia 110 million years ago.
Elaphrosaurs had long necks, stumpy arms with small hands, and fairly light bodies. It was also two meters long, or 6.5 feet. It was smaller than the fossils of the same species discovered in Tanzania, China, and Argentina, reaching six meters.
It is significant to note that they did not eat much meat, and back then, the younger elaphrosaurs had teeth and were replaced by a horny beak as they grew older. It was not the first time a dinosaur fossil was discovered in Cape Otway, as a plant-eating dinosaur species was also discovered in 2018 in the same place.
Other Discoveries in Other Places
A new species of dinosaurs were discovered in the northern part of Chile, in the Atacama Desert, known as the hottest and driest place in the world. It was determined to be a titanosaur, a plant-eating dinosaur with a small head, long neck, and an unusually flat back. Scientists suggest that this long-necked dinosaur fed on flowering plants, ferns, and plant trees. It was known to be lush back then before the Atacama became a dry and hot desert.
The team discovered parts of the humerus, a ferum, the ischium, and the neck and back vertebral elements. It was estimated to be a small sub-adult individual, with an estimated length of 6.3 meters or at least 20 feet.
The species was named Arackar licanantay, which translates to “Atacama bones” in the native Kunza language. It was found in beds dating from the Late Cretaceous, which is significant because it was the last epoch before all dinosaurs were wiped out of the planet 66 million years ago. (Source)
It is recorded as the third dinosaur discovered in Chile, and the third titanosaur discovered from the western side of the Andes mountain range in South America. In March, a skull belonging to the horned Llukalkan aliocranianus was also discovered by a team of scientists in the southern part of Argentina. The name means “one who causes fear” in the native Mapuche language, and this was also discovered to roam the continent 85 million years ago.
It was similar to the Tyrannosaurus rex with two legs and very short arms but smaller than the T-rex. The findings suggest that compared to other dinosaurs in the abelisaurids family, it had better hearing, making it even better in hunting for prey.
It’s surprising that scientists also discovered remains of another predatory dinosaur close to the Llukalkan’s skull. Called the Viavenator exxoni, it was a larger meat-eating dinosaur like the former. Scientists have inferred that these two lived in the same ecosystem, and there are chances that they might have eaten each other too.
What New Technologies Are Being Used to Analyze Fossils?
Back then, scientists relied on manual labor and research to determine what kinds of dinosaur species they discovered in explorations.
Nowadays, they use newer and more advanced technologies that greatly helped them understand fossils even better.
What are the different new technologies used to discover new dinosaur fossils? Scientists use different kinds of technology such as X-ray, CT scanning, 3D modeling, electron microscopy, and synchrotron tomography in analyzing and reproducing models and molds based on bones and other fossil discoveries. (Source)
New Imaging Technologies Help in Better Understanding
The depictions of dinosaurs that scientists have used for decades are now updated. Scientists are employing new imaging technologies to produce more accurate depictions of these dinosaur species to understand better how these dinosaurs lived back then.
Back then, scientists and paleontologists spent painstaking amounts of time and effort to remove the fossils from the surrounding rock and debris before properly studying the fossils and determining which dinosaur species they are. (Source)
These new imaging technologies bring forth innovations that greatly help the scientists provide more accurate observations and inferences to the community members and the general public.
It allows scientists to create precise images and simulations without physically removing dinosaur fossils from rock and other hardened debris, saving them time since it can often take long periods to remove solid debris from fossils.
The virtual bones produced by the new imaging technologies can be easily shared and studied, and even printed, making the findings and observations more accessible to the community members and even the general public.
3D modeling also helps paleontologists in several tasks, such as manipulating specific parts of the dinosaur specimen for further study and replacing missing sections with existing data from another part of the bones.
It also digitally reconstructs the skulls or other complex bone structures that were distorted and damaged during the fossilization process. Virtual reconstruction of soft tissues and muscles attached to the bones can also be requested for further analysis.
When these precise models are created, they can subject them to biomechanical analysis to understand how the dinosaurs lived based on the bones and muscles reconstructed by the technology.
Advancements in X-ray Imaging and Electron Microscopy
X-ray imaging and electron microscopy have helped many scientists and paleontologists with their studies of dinosaurs back then. The recent improvements and innovations have maximized their potential to help understand how dinosaurs lived even more.
Electron microscopy uses beams of electrons in creating an image of a specimen, which is very beneficial to them because nowadays, it allows the scientists to peer with a surprising level of detail, not only into rocks with fossils in it but also inside the bodies of the fossilized animals themselves. (Source)
These innovations have saved the scientists more time and effort in physically unearthing the fossils from the debris attached to them, which can be a strenuous and taxing task that may take years depending on the size of the fossil. Other types of imaging methods provide more precise images for scientists to study, such as synchrotron tomography.
More on Synchrotron Tomography
Scientists use synchrotron tomography to produce more precise images of specimens for future references and studies. Synchrotron tomography uses a particle accelerator to produce extremely bright X-rays, which results in more precise and cleaner images.
This new technology makes visible structures smaller than a thousandth of a millimeter, one one-hundredth the thickness of a human hair strand. Scientists have used synchrotron tomography to visualize preserved subcellular structures, including possible nuclei. It even made it possible to dissect out the structures entirely virtually.
Using CT Scans to Study the Fossils
The CT scans we use in detecting clogged arteries in living creatures can also be used to study fossils without damaging them.
Scientists at Washington University have used CT scanners because of their high accuracy rates compared to other imaging scans. It also allows the scientists to use higher amounts of radiation that will not damage the fossils, giving them clearer and more accurate images than ever.
The scans from the CT scan are used to create 3D virtual models and life-size plastic molds, which help them study the dinosaurs even better. These molds can also be scanned for further study, making scientists’ lives much easier than before.
Where Have Dinosaur Fossils Been Found In the United States? Other Key Dinosaur Sites Worldwide
The United States has documented several instances of dinosaur discoveries, including the famed Tyrannosaurus rex. Here are some places where dinosaur fossils have been found in the country and other key dinosaur sites.
The Late Jurassic Morrison Formation
One of the most famous places where many dinosaur fossils were found is in the Morrison Formation. It is a distinctive sequence made of Upper Jurassic sedimentary rock found in the western part of the United States.
The formation is known as the most fertile source of dinosaur fossils in North America. Most of the fossils were found in the green siltstone beds and lower sandstones, relics of the rivers and floodplains of the Jurassic period.
The Morrison Formation is located in Wyoming and Colorado, with outcrops existing in other states such as Montana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and New Mexico. (Source)
A lot of dinosaurs are discovered here, such as Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Torvosaurus, Saurophaganax, Camptosaurus, Ornitholestes, several stegosauruses comprising of at least two species of Stegosaurus and the slightly older Hesperosaurus, and the early ankylosaurs, Mymoorapelta and Gargoyleosaurus, most notably a very broad range of sauropods.
Aside from dinosaur fossils, there was also fossilized vegetation such as ferns, flowering plants, and other fruit-bearing plants and trees for herbivores to eat back then.
Since the climate was dry, no angiosperms were discovered, and thus the flora there was quite different from the others. Some of the plants discovered include conifers, ginkgos, cycads, tree ferns, and horsetail rushes.
Many discoveries were seen in different parts of the Morrison Formation, making it a prime destination for scientists and paleontologists to study more on the lives of the dinosaurs.
The Dinosaur National Monument and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
The Dinosaur National Monument is situated in the Morrison Formation, straddling Colorado and Utah. It is a designated place where people can see fossils of discovered dinosaurs in the area, and there were discoveries in the area as well. The dinosaur fossils can be seen on display in the Utah portion of the monument.
The Fossil Discovery Trail is a 1.2-mile path featuring exposed layers of rock, several fossils, and preserved dinosaur bones is also a good place to see them in person.
The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is also another great place where dinosaur fossils were discovered. Found on the Colorado Plateau, it is a certified treasure trove of Mesozoic fossils. A trail of dinosaur tracks, which are the preserved footprints of the dinosaurs, can also be found in the area’s visitor centers.
Other States Where Dinosaur Fossils Were Found
However, not all dinosaur discoveries were found in these three locations. Other states have reported instances of dinosaur fossils discovered either by paleontologists or regular citizens.
The Paleobiology Database has collected information about each state’s dinosaur finds, and this provides scientists and paleontologists a sample via the fossils available in public collections.
According to them, seven states have no dinosaur fossils recorded by the PBDB. These states include Kentucky, Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. These states were not yet surfacing back then, as they were still submerged below sea level.
The top ten states with the most dinosaur finds include Virginia, Massachusetts, Texas, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Florida, Montana, Wyoming, and California.
These states reported several discoveries in dinosaur fossils and other animal fossils in the area. Four of the ten states have the Morrison Formation in their state boundaries, contributing to the abundance of dinosaur fossil finds.
Scientists have constantly used different kinds of technology to help them understand how the dinosaurs live and function even better.
These different kinds of new technology and innovations have eased the burden of physically extracting the hardened sediments and rocks around the bones and fossils, which could take months or even years, depending on how massive the size is.
These technologies have ensured more accurate descriptions and depictions of these dinosaurs for posterity and the future of the scientific community.
It’s always exciting and amazing when I read that a new sauropod has been discovered in Australia or Argentina or that an old collection of fossil eggs is found to have an embryo of a dinosaur, only revealed because of a new technology CT scan.
However, perhaps the most exciting is when a new fossil discovery, such as the Spinosaurus aegypticus in 2020, that determined it was well adapted for water, changes the game completely. It is considered the first water dinosaur, based on the fossil specimen.
With so many new dinosaur fossils being discovered every year (National Geographic estimates 50 new species per year), what great discoveries will come next?