I am very proud of my home state of Utah. I thought it was boring and I hated it until I left, and realized that it’s actually a pretty great place. I’ve done that three times now and have always come back, so Utah must have something going for it. Or maybe it’s like Nightvale** and you can never truly leave. For real though, Utah has crazy geography and climate. Northern Utah is mountainous and snowy, whereas the south is a hot sandy desert. Alta is internationally known as one of the best ski resorts ever.
The Colorado plateau runs roughly diagonally through the state and is known in geological circles for being exceptionally stable and containing special sorts of sandstone (Navajo) that preserve fossils exceptionally well and also gives rise to spectacular rock formations. Internationally known Delicate Arch (look at a Utah license plate for a picture) is a part of this formation, which also gives us Zion National Park, Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, and Dinosaur National Monument, to just name a few.
Because the rocks both preserve fossils and have sat quietly for millions of years, Utah has dinosaur fossils galore; and, one of my favorite dinosaur museums to house them! This entire article is basically an ad to go to the Natural History Museum of Utah (NHMU), even though they’re not paying me. I just love it so much. If you go, it will tell you in much greater detail why Utah is one of the best places in the world to find dinosaur bones, and definitely the best in the US. That’s all I can tell you because for some reason geology is the most confusing of the sciences to me.
The museum recently found and excavated an almost complete fossilized tyrannosaurus from Southern Utah. It’s now hanging out at the lab part of the museum, which you can actually go watch the paleontologists work on it. Sometimes I’ll visit and just watch as some kind of vicarious living. They also have little plastic dinos in their lab and it’s adorable.
(This is probably a good time to mention that admission is free if you’re a student at the University of Utah, and you’ll find me there often. There, or the next door Red Butte Garden are my two favorite secret study spots. You’re welcome. I’ll sometimes just stare at the Allosauruses at the museum and imagine the billions of years it took to go from amino acid soup* to humans and feel extremely small in the grand scheme of things.)
While this tyrannosaurus, unfortunately, isn’t the one that (spoiler) saved everyone’s lives at the end of the newest installment in the Jurassic Park series, it’s a cousin of the King of Dinosaurs. (That’s what T. Rex means in Latin, btw.) It’s also at least 75% preserved, which is absolutely insane. Many dinosaurs we only know and love because we found a few toes and maybe some ribs, with the rest of the body extrapolated from such meager scraps.
This guy or gal, though (we are not sure) has its complete skull in place, which can tell paleontologists quite a bit about what it ate, what it looked like, and also provide clues to behavior, potentially. So far, we know that it was a probably between 12-15 years or 72 million years old, depending on how you look at it. It was almost 20 feet long, with a surprisingly short head, which sounds kind of mean even though I don’t think there are body standards for dinosaurs, even if they are teenagers.
There are two different types of tyrannosaurs that we know about; the first is like the T. Rex that is found in northern Northern America, such as Canada. The second types are found in southern Northern America, such as Utah. This new kid on the block might be a Teratophoneus Curriei, the second type, but we’re not sure yet because there aren’t a lot of fossil examples. We think this because of where it was found, and its odd head.
It will be years until this scary friend is studied in its entirety, and we may never know everything, but every new fossil helps us to understand the age of the dinosaurs.