Major fossil discovery hints at East America's dinosaur past

"The dinosaur site at Laurel is the most important dig site in America east of the Mississippi. It was one of the first dinosaur fossil sites found in the US," said paleontologist at the University of Maryland Thomas Holtz.
Amal Jos Chacko
Rare Dinosaur Fossils Discovered at M-NCPPC, Department of Parks and Recreation, Prince George’s County Dinosaur Park.
Rare Dinosaur Fossils Discovered at M-NCPPC, Department of Parks and Recreation, Prince George’s County Dinosaur Park.

M-NCPPC Parks & Recreation/ Angel Waldron 

The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) announced the unearthing of a remarkable prehistoric bone bed at Dinosaur Park in Laurel, Maryland, in a press release.

Argentine geologist Federico Alvarez Hazer, who recently immigrated to Baltimore, found himself at the center of the extraordinary discovery. While assisting in the excavation of a dinosaur vertebra during an Earth Day event, Alvarez Hazer accidentally struck a massive 3-foot shin bone buried in the dirt. 

“This discovery marks an extraordinary milestone in the field of paleontology and opens a window into the ancient world and species that once roamed this land millions of years ago,” said Peter A. Shapiro, Chairman, M-NCPPC. “We are proud of our dedicated team of experts at the Department of Parks and Recreation, Prince George’s County, and their ongoing efforts in preserving and studying our natural heritage.”

This finding, along with numerous other fossils, marks the first bone bed discovered in Maryland since 1887. The shin bone, believed to be the largest theropod fossil ever found in Eastern North America, has captured the attention of experts and ignited a wave of excitement among paleontology enthusiasts.

Unraveling the mysteries

The shin bone's initial identification suggests that it belonged to an Acrocanthosaurus, the largest known theropod in the early Cretaceous period, over 100 million years ago. 

“These discoveries hold important clues to understanding the prehistoric past of Eastern North America, which is often covered by development and heavily forested lands,” Thomas Holtz, a paleontologist at the University of Maryland told The Baltimore Sun.

“Where we don’t have greenery on it, we’ve got light industrial parks, or shopping malls or houses or whatever. So we don't have those rocks exposed,” explained Holtz, pointing out the reason behind a lack of knowledge of dinosaurs from the Eastern part of North America.

Among the treasures found in the bone bed is the tail barb of a stingray, potentially the second oldest found globally, and the tooth of a small tyrannosaur, representing the first evidence of a distant relative of the famous T. rex in Maryland. 

A journey through time at Dinosaur Park

Dinosaur Park, once an iron mine in the 1800s, has a rich history of fossil discoveries. African American miners stumbled upon dinosaur bones at the site in 1858, sparking widespread interest in paleontology. 

In 1887, paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh dispatched fossil collector John Bell Hatcher to the iron mines, leading to the recovery of hundreds of fossils. However, organized fossil collecting ceased when iron mining operations ended in the early 20th century.

Reviving interest in the site in the 1980s, paleontologists have since safeguarded Dinosaur Park from development and unrestricted collecting. The park is open to the public on specific Saturdays, where visitors can search for fossils on the surface under the guidance of staff members. Over the years, enthusiastic young children exploring the rocky terrain have made several significant discoveries.

The story of the bone bed began in 2013 when Max Bovin, a Dinosaur Park staff member, spotted a 4-foot limb bone encased in ironstone. However, the recent Earth Day event brought about the most remarkable find yet—the 3-foot shin bone discovered by Federico Alvarez Hazer.

The uncovering of this prehistoric bone bed has opened a window into the ancient past of Eastern North America, providing scientists and the public alike with a glimpse into the lost world of dinosaurs that once roamed the region. Excavations at Dinosaur Park continue, promising even more exciting revelations in the future.

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