The Sail-Backed Dinosaur from the Cedar Mountain Formation

Greetings. A few days ago, I learned of a remarkable discovery. In east-central Utah within the rock layers of the Cedar Mountain Formation, dated to the early Cretaceous Period about 135 million years ago (the same time and place where creatures like Utahraptor and Gastonia roamed the land), paleontologists discovered the fossilized remains of an Iguanodon-like plant-eating dinosaur. What was remarkable about this animal is that it had a prominent sail running down the middle of its back, similar in appearance to the African ornithopod dinosaur Ouranosaurus from the middle Cretaceous.

In 1998, James Kirkland and his associates made a remark within a scientific paper that “a sail-backed iguanodontid” had been discovered within the Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation. However, aside from this brief tantalizing mention, no further info was given (Kirkland, James I.; Britt, Brooks B.; Whittle, Christopher H.; Madsen, Scott K.; Burge, Donald L. (1998). “A small coelurosaurian theropod from the Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation (Lower Cretaceous, Barremian) of eastern Utah”. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin, volume 14. Page 239).

Word of the discovery was announced to the scientific community in June 2009 and re-announced in October 2010, but no official name was applied to the animal and no description of the fossils was written up. This was partly because the fossils themselves were in a bad condition. At the site in Utah where the fossils were found, all of the bones of this animal were very badly damaged, shattered into hundreds of tiny pieces that all needed to be put back together one piece at a time. Not only that, but mixed in with the bones of this animal were also the smashed-up bones of several other dinosaur species. In total the paleontologists excavating the site uncovered about 5,000 pieces of bones belonging to several species, some of them being less than an inch big. Figuring out how to fit all of these pieces together, and deciding which particular bones belonged to which skeleton, was going to be a big job. As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, the matrix sediment that the bones were encased in was very tough and difficult to remove. All things considered, no wonder that over ten years have gone by and the animal still hadn’t been given a name yet. This delicate pains-taking work of putting not just one but several 135 million year old jigsaw puzzles back together would likely take not just years but decades to finish.

Although this animal’s existence had been known within the scientific community for over a decade, I myself had no idea that this remarkable animal existed until just a few days ago. Even so, it grabbed my attention and I became keenly interested in learning as much about this animal as I could. I even undertook writing my first official scientific research paper on this creature. However, when I made some inquiries to a professional paleontologist who had worked at the site where the bones were found, I was informed that the fossils of this animal were at that very moment undergoing a comprehensive analysis and description by another paleontologist…Oh well. C’est la vie.

What you see below is my artistic rendition of what I think this animal may have looked like based upon all of the evidence that I was able to collect so far. I had come up with a name for it, but I won’t post it here, as it is not an official name of a dinosaur, and I don’t want to muscle in on other people’s action. There are other people who are in the process of writing an official description of this animal right now, and they ought to be the ones to name it, not me.

© Jason R. Abdale (February 8, 2022).



Categories: Paleontology, Uncategorized

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