Fieldwork

The Zanno Lab’s field program is coordinated through the Paleontology Research Lab, located at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh.

You can learn more about our fieldwork through our companion website: www.expeditionlive.org

DINOSAURS OF THE DAWN: Mussentuchit Dinosaur Project

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Excavating a new plant eating dinosaur

The iconic dinosaur faunas of the Late Jurassic and Late Cretaceous of western North America have been studied for over a century.  Late Jurassic dinosaur communities contain famous long neck dinosaurs (sauropods, e.g., Brachiosaurus), plated dinosaurs (e.g., Stegosaurus), and familiar large predators (e.g., Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus).  Likewise, Late Cretaceous dinosaur communities contain a fair number of other icons including tyrannosaurs (e.g., T. rex), dromaeosaurs (similar to Velociraptor), duckbill dinosaurs (e.g., Parasaurolophus), and horned dinosaurs (e.g., Triceratops). The Mussentuchit Dinosaur Project (MDP) hunts the animals that lived and died at the dawn of the Late Cretaceous (98 million years ago), in between these well known intervals.

The MDP is opening a whole new window into the North American dinosaur ecosystems helping to fill in a huge biodiversity gap and providing data to test previous hypotheses about localized extinction and faunal turnover events in the Cretaceous.  Our summer field experience (BIO 495) includes fieldwork in this exciting new area. Learn more about our newest dinosaurs from the project, including one of the continents largest predatory dinosaurs–Siats meekerorum–on our News page.

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DINO DEATH PIT: Falcarius Paleobiology Project

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New sauropod at the CGQ

We conduct excavations at an unprecedented dinosaur burial ground in the Cedar Mountain Formation known as the Crystal Geyser Quarry (CGQ).  The CGQ is a mass mortality site entombing a rare and remarkable dinosaur dubbed Falcarius utahensis.  One hundred and twenty-five million years ago an estimated 300 Falcarius individuals ranging in age from hatchlings to 4-meter long adults died and were buried here under mysterious conditions.  This extraordinary phenomenon makes the CGQ one of the largest feathered dinosaur graveyards known anywhere in the world.

Falcarius is one of the oldest and most primitive members of a group of feathered, plant-eating theropod dinosaurs known as therizinosaursAlthough the transition from meat eating to plant-eating has occurred several times in the evolutionary history of dinosaurs, therizinosaurs are one of a handful of transitional dinosaur groups recording this complex evolutionary process.

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DINOS ON THE EDGE: Dinosaurs of the Western Interior Basin

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Dinosaur find at the base of a huge sandstone chanel

Dinosaur find at the base of a huge sandstone channel

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Looking up the 500 ft face of the Book Cliffs in central Utah, it is hard to imagine that these rocks were once beach front property.  During the Late Cretaceous (about 75 million years ago), a massive inland sea flooded the middle of the North American continent.  States such as New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah lined the western edge of the seaway and were home to warm tropical beaches and a host of Cretaceous wildlife.  During its tenure on North America, the seaway and accompanying mountains to the west formed the perfect conditions to bury dinosaurs, record sea level rises and falls, and help us detangle the impact of sea-level and climate change on terrestrial ecosystems.  The dinosaur fauna of the Book Cliffs is almost entirely known.  We conduct expeditions to this area and similarly aged sediments (s.g., the Wahweap Formation) to uncover these long lost Cretaceous ecosystems.  Rhinorex condrupus (king-nose buried in a cliff) was discovered here.  You can read more about Rhinorex on our News page.

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