DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT, Utah (AP) — A fossil damaged by vandals in September has been removed from its place along the monument’s popular Fossil Discovery Trail so it can be used as a teaching tool.
Brooks Britt, a paleontologist from Brigham Young University, excavated the fossilized humerus of a juvenile sauropod Tuesday with a mix of brute strength and finesse.
“This bone is easy to get out because it’s in relatively soft rock,” said Britt as he worked with a hammer and chisel to break rock from the Jurassic period away from the fossil before switching to a small brush to sweep away dirt and debris.
Britt was hired by the National Park Service to excavate the damaged fossil after an evaluation determined it would not survive continued exposure to the elements.
“(The vandals) took a chunk out about the size of my fist,” Britt said. “That destabilized (the fossil). It propagated fractures. It opens them up and then the weathering process starts attacking the bone, so you can’t leave it out in the open.”
On Sept. 2, a park ranger leading a guided walk on the Fossil Discovery Trail found the vandalism. The damage had not been present the previous day, according to Dinosaur National Monument spokesman Dan Johnson.
Daniel Chure, the monument’s paleontologist, described his reaction to the vandalism as one of “frustration and anger.”
“Hundreds of thousands of visitors have been able to come here and actually look at dinosaur bones as they are naturally exposed by erosion,” Chure said. “Now, because of the thoughtless actions of one person, future visitors won’t have the opportunity to see this particular bone in the field . where future generations can experience that joy of discovery.”
Visitors will still be able to see the fossil in its damaged state though. As part of his contract with the Park Service, Britt will prepare the fossil in his BYU lab for display at the monument’s Quarry Visitor Center.
“Our plan is to put it on exhibit in the visitor center to let visitors see a really nice bone that had to unfortunately be removed from the trail because of vandalism, and hopefully prevent future vandal events,” Chure said.
Rangers are asking that anyone with information about the fossil damage to contact the monument at 435-781-7715. A $750 reward is being offered for information that leads to a conviction.