Living History: Utah's rich heritage of dinosaur fossils

Andrew Carnegie contemplated the cavernous new wing of his Pittsburgh museum. It needed something to fill it. Something big.

There was that young fellow, Earl Douglass, in his employ with the story of a bone. What was it again? Oh, yes -- a thighbone bigger than a man. The man had been following up on stories of big bones found by sheepherders near Utah's Green River, and that's where he had seen it. Too heavy to carry out, he had left it. Carnegie sent the young man back to fetch it, along with the rest of the beast. That would be something to fill the empty museum space.

In the summer of 1909, Douglass was an accomplished field paleontologist when paleontology was barely a science. He had already discovered several dinosaurs and fossil mammals when he returned to Utah.

That dinosaurs had once been here was beyond question. Fossil bones had been weathering out of the rock for eons. In fact, the thigh he had left the season before had been flushed down from somewhere higher up in the sandstone cliffs. (Someone had made off with the bone in his absence, even though it had been earmarked.)

Douglass didn't care much about a single random bit of dinosaur, no matter how impressive. It would mean much more to find the bone in its original rock matrix. Then you had a chance of finding a whole dinosaur. A miner searches for the mother lode; Douglass was looking for the fossil bone bed.

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