Scientists Find First Evidence of Dinosaurs in Wash. State

80M-year-old femur belonged to a theropod
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted May 21, 2015 7:18 AM CDT
Scientists Find First Evidence of Dinosaurs in Wash. State
Christian Sidor, curator of paleontology at Burke Museum in Seattle, and Brandon Peecook, University of Washington grad student, hold up the fossil and cast of a Daspletosaurus femur (left).   (The Burke Museum)

It appears that around 80 million years ago, a theropod dinosaur roughly the size of a transit bus died near the sea and was jostled by waves, and at some point part of its femur became wedged into a rocky outcrop alongside clam fossils in Washington state's San Juan Islands. So surmise paleontologists at the University of Washington, who excavated the 17-inch-long bone a month after it was found by other scientists looking for extinct marine invertebrates in April 2012, reports LiveScience. The team spent the next year and a half preparing the fossil before they sorted out that what they had on their hands was in fact the first dinosaur bone ever found in the state. (T. rex is a type of theropod, by the way, though at 36 feet this dinosaur was a bit smaller.)

"For the longest time, I was unconvinced that we were going to be able to say anything else besides, 'It's a large bone,'" one researcher says. "I couldn't tell if it was a dinosaur, couldn't tell if it was a marine reptile, couldn't tell anything about it." They were "lucky," he adds, that it was preserved enough for them to find two clues. First, the bone has a hollow cavity, and second, a feature called a "fourth trochanter," both suggesting a theropod, they report this week in PLoS ONE. The find makes Washington the 37th state to lay claim to a dino fossil; the area was in fact largely underwater at the time, reports the Seattle Times. A few theories are floating around about why a land roamer has been found there, including that it made its way north from Oregon or California. (Dinosaurs appear to have first emerged in South America.)

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