Telluride 8th Grader Discovers Jurassic Era Dinosaur Fossil
by Gus Jarvis
Jan 03, 2013 | 1770 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DINOSAUR FOSSIL – An Allosaurus fossil, found by Sylvan Bald on a hike in Ilium Valley last May, was stabilized by Dr. Jon Powell, with acetone and glue, as Bald (far right) and Telluride Mountain School math and science teacher Andy Shoff (center) looked on. Once stabilized, the fossil was moved to a secure location. (Courtesy photo)
DINOSAUR FOSSIL – An Allosaurus fossil, found by Sylvan Bald on a hike in Ilium Valley last May, was stabilized by Dr. Jon Powell, with acetone and glue, as Bald (far right) and Telluride Mountain School math and science teacher Andy Shoff (center) looked on. Once stabilized, the fossil was moved to a secure location. (Courtesy photo)
slideshow
DR. JOHN POWELL compared the fossil to drawings at the site
where it was discovered last May. (Courtesy photo)
DR. JOHN POWELL compared the fossil to drawings at the site where it was discovered last May. (Courtesy photo)
slideshow
PREHISTORIC PREDATOR – A piece of what is believed to be
the pelvic bone of an Allosaurus was found just off the Galloping
Goose trail in the Ilium Valley near Telluride. The Allosaurus has
a similar body shape to the T Rex but is smaller in size.
PREHISTORIC PREDATOR – A piece of what is believed to be the pelvic bone of an Allosaurus was found just off the Galloping Goose trail in the Ilium Valley near Telluride. The Allosaurus has a similar body shape to the T Rex but is smaller in size.
slideshow
TELLURIDE – Fourteen-year-old Telluride Mountain School student Sylvan Bald knew he had spotted a fossil of importance on a family hike in the Ilium Valley back in 2011. But he had no idea the fossil would turn out to be a piece of pelvic bone of, perhaps, one of the most fearsome carnivorous dinosaurs that ruled the late Jurassic Period 150 million years ago.

Approximately a year after the fossil was discovered by Bald on the Galloping Goose trail, and with the assistance of Dr. Jon Powell, a visiting geosciences instructor from Fort Lewis College, it has been determined that the fossil is a portion of pelvic bone, most likely from an Allosaurus. The meat-eating dinosaur has a similar build to Tyrannosaurus Rex, but is smaller; it grew to just 30 feet in length and weighed four tons. Its razor-sharp teeth and hook-shaped claws made it one of the most aggressive predators of its time.

It was during a pre-dinner Thanksgiving hike when Bald and his parents were walking along the trail in the Ilium Valley near Telluride and he spotted what he thought to be a large fossil.

“I was pretty excited,” said Bald, who was in the 8th grade at the Telluride Mountain School at the time. He said he’s pretty good at finding interesting things and always has his eyes open. “I find all sorts of stuff all the time. Once when I was on a trip in Dark Canyon, I found a meteorite on the trail.”

Upon discovering the fossil, Bald and the rest of the family decided that someone with some expertise should examine it. Bald’s mother, Jeanne Stewart, called San Miguel County Open Space and Recreation Coordinator Linda Luther-Broderick to see if she knew of anyone that could be of help.

Luther-Broderick then went back to the site of the discovery, snapped a few digital photos, and began seeking an expert who might be able to identify what the fossil was. After several unsuccessful inquiries, representatives at Fort Lewis College connected them to Powell. With snow falling and winter taking over, the fossil was left in place until May of last year, when Powell was able to make a trip from Durango to see it.

Upon examining it, Powell agreed that it was significant. He was concerned about its exposure to weather and vulnerability to theft, so preparations were made to remove it to a safer location at the San Miguel County offices. It was decided that the fossil’s extraction would make a perfect learning opportunity, as well, and the event became an impromptu paleontological field study with the Mountain School’s seventh-and-eighth-grade science class.

“We knew the fossil was significant, but we didn’t know what era it was from,” Stewart said. “Dr. Powell was excited to look around at the nearby cliff and [dated it to] the Morrison layer that relates to the Jurassic Period. He was able to point out some thin bands of fossilized plant material.”

By comparing the fossil with photos at the site, Stewart said, Powell was able to tentatively identify the fossil as a bone from an Allosaurus, but wanted to confirm its identity once he returned to the lab.

“It took awhile for him to get back with us, and that is why the story didn’t unfold more quickly,” she said. “All of us involved were chomping at the bit, wanting the news to get out, but Jon just wanted to make sure it was indeed from an Allosaurus.”

“The fossils found by Sylvan probably represent pieces of the ischia (two of the pelvic bones),” Powell wrote in an email to Luther-Broderick. “Although it’s always dicey predicting the type of dinosaur from isolated bones or fragments, there’s a good chance it represents a carnivore like Allosaurus fragilis, one of the most common predators from the Jurassic Period. The rocks are river channel and floodplain deposits of the Morrison Formation, sometimes referred to as ‘the original Jurassic Park.’ In addition to the dinosaur bones, thin coal seams and petrified wood support the idea of a floodplain environment with a winding river channel.”

Both Bald and Stewart were excited to get Powell’s email.

“It was really exciting,” Bald said. “We actually found out from Jon that it was [probably] from an Allosaurus and that the bone was part of its structure. An Allosaurus is like a small T Rex but about 30 feet long.”

Like many young children, Stewart said, Bald was “really into” dinosaurs at a young age. Once the bone was deemed to be from an Allosaurus, they both got excited.

“We remembered that name,” Stewart said. “He had plastic models of dinosaurs, and it was fun to see that this was a dinosaur we had studied way back when. This has been really exciting, and it was great to have the class participate in it.”

As for the fossil, right now it’s in a safe place, and may soon be on exhibit at the Telluride Mountain School. Eventually the fossil will be on permanent display at the Telluride Historical Museum, once a case and space can be provided.

If Bald has anything to do with it, more discoveries may be on the way.

“There might be more, and I am going to keep looking to see if there are other remains,” he said. “We have only seen just a part of the hip. There could be a whole dinosaur up there.”

 

gjarvis@watchnewspapers.com

Twitter: @gusgusj

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