Byline: RALPH WAKLEY
SALT LAKE CITY Brigham Young University paleontologists are chiseling 4 tons of fossilized bones from a mountainous Colorado mesa, including a hip and vertebrae they say belong to supersaurus, the longest dinosaur to roam the Earth.
The length of the fossilized beast 'could well exceed 100 feet, based on the bones we have,' Wade Miller, head of BYU's Earth Sciences Museum and chairman of the university Geology Department, said in a telephone interview.
That would put supersaurus in the same range as a dinosaur dubbed seismosaurus by David Gillette, a Utah State paleontologist. Gillette said Friday his find, in the New Mexico mountains 50 miles north of Albuquerque 'hasn't been completely uncovered yet.'
The estimated length of supersaurus 'is about what we'd expect from seismosaurus, at least 110 feet,' said Gillette.
The fossilized remains of both monster reptiles are found in a geologic formation called the Morrison Formation and apparently are members of the diplodocus family, researchers said, with long necks and tails, tiny heads and bulky bodies.
Miller said the BYU team's 'significant discovery is extremely important because it's from a period of time, between the end of the Jurassic Period and the beginning of the Cretaceous Period, that's not well documented.'
BYU student Brian Versey and museum employee Cliff Miles discovered the hip bone 'by accident' Aug. 18, said Versey, while they were preparing to close up the Dry Mesa Quarry near Delta, Colo., for the summer.
'At first we were saying, 'Oh boy!' And then it was, 'Oh no!' We were ready to go home, and now we'll have to be here for another week,' Versey said.
Miller said Versey and Miles found the 6-foot-tall pelvis 'at the same time, but they were digging in different locations and they kept thinking they were on two different bones.'
The pelvis and four vertebrae -- each about 52 inches tall - uncovered in an ancient river bed 'are the largest bone complex, in terms of mass, of any species ever found anywhere in the world,' Miller said.
'Some whale jawbones would be longer, but nothing would have more bone mass. We're dealing with one of the largest things to ever live on the Earth. It's even bigger than we first thought' when the hip was exposed.
The 30-ton, plant-eating dinosaur lived about 130 million to 140 million years ago, said Miller, but how it got so big is one of the things the researchers hope to explain.
'The members of the diplodocus family had ridiculously small heads, which means they couldn't take in much food compared to the size of their bodies. It's likely they had a very low metabolism, which would mean they didn't need as much food as other dinosaur species.'
The team will spend one more week at the quarry, extracting the bones and encasing them in plaster of Paris. They then will be moved to the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, 40 miles south of Salt Lake City, where the researchers will spend about three months cleaning the find of rocks and debris.
Before the paleontologists return to Dry Mesa next year, he said, they hope to determine the age and sex of the new find.