Dinosaur Discoveries

Finding and excavating dinosaurs in Montana has come a long way in the last century. Explorer Ferdinand Hayden found and reported some of the first dinosaur fragments exploring western waterways around 1855. This material was reported and noticed by archenemies E.D. Cope and O.C. Marsh and it wasn’t long before Montana was recognized as a paleontological hotbed by the most noted of fossil hunters.

Early explorers had more on their plate than just finding dinosaurs. Raiding war parties were a constant threat. Digging and moving bones by horseback, biting insects, and extreme elements made dinosaur collecting a game of sheer survival. The determination of risk takers like Cope, Charles Sternberg, and Barnum Brown brought many “first” specimens to the forefront of paleontology. One such “first” is the 1902 specimen of T. rex found by Barnum Brown near Jordan, MT.

Stegosaur Excavation Team 2008

JRDI and team members have been privileged to discover many “firsts” too. You can click on the tabs to read about what makes Elvis, Peanut, Leonardo or Rosie unique among Montana’s dinosaurs.

Though we don’t dodge angry war parties, or use horses and dynamite, we have a strong team of people to thank for these dinosaurs’ discovery, excavation and preparation. Some 99% of the greatest dinosaur discoveries made are by amateurs with sharp eyes and a love for the science—not educated noblemen. JRDI continues that tradition…

Excavating a Brachylophosaurus
Dinosaur Discoveries
Dinosaur Discoveries
Dinosaur Discoveries
Dinosaur Discoveries
Dinosaur Discoveries
Dinosaur Discoveries

Dubbed “Elvis” by Murphy, this fully articulated specimen was exposed on the face of a hillside 15 miles north of Malta, Montana, in Phillips County.

Adding to the uniqueness of this fossil is the fact that Elvis is the first three-dimensional hadrosaur ever recovered.

Skeletons are usually crushed by tons of earth, which distorts their bones. However, this brachylophosaurus was quickly covered in sand when it died, with sand also filling the rib cage cavity.

The animal is so well preserved that tendons and ligaments are still visible and it is fully intact from head to tail. The 77-million-year-old specimen is 95 percent complete, making it an extremely rare discovery.

“Elvis” is on display at the Phillips County Museum in Malta, Montana. This Brachylophosaurus is complete (minus a few feet of tail), and is “inflated,” that is, surrounding sand filled the animal’s body cavities as it decomposed, preserving it in three dimensions.

Dinosaur Discoveries

JRDI Exploration team members discovered “Leonardo” on July 27, 2000, during the Judith River Dinosaur Institute’s “Expedition.”

The exploration team had observed the exposed mid-section of the hadrosaurs tail, as well as a cross-section of its pelvis, in a large channel sandstone deposit.

Leonardo is quite a spectacular specimen. In addition to possessing rare skin impressions and being one of only four existing brachylophosaurus specimens uncovered to date, he is the first fully articulated subadult ever found and is believed to have been about 3 or 4 years old when he died.The excavation of Leonardo became the focus of the Institute’s 2001 season. With a crew of over 25 volunteers comprised of paleontologists, geologists, paleolife artists, and many others dedicated to the science of paleontology, the exciting work of removing the specimen from its 77-million-year-old cement-like tomb began.

The bones of Roberta, although pristine to the eye, were incredibly fragile. The skull has its left side articulated to its vertebral column. Most of the front limbs are articulated including humerus to scapula and also the very delicate wrist bones. We had a small amount of skin impression on the forelimbs and we may see more elsewhere as preparation continues in future.

In the future we want to study the possible sexual dimorphic characters of this skeleton versus our other Brachylophosaurs. The skull and some other parts of Roberta seem more gracile than other specimens we have collected. Also the bone preservation on Roberta is quite amazing and it seems the composition is closer to ‘original’ bone than mineralized rock.

We would like to study the role of anaerobic bacteria in the burial and preservation process. When this is combined with a more detailed study of local geochemical and groundwater conditions throughout time then we can have a greater understanding of what brings us these remarkable dinosaur specimens from the Judith River Formation.

Although this specimen is not fully articulated and as well preserved as our other Brachylophosaur specimens. Peanut is the smallest and youngest Brachylophosaurus found to date, and therefore can offer us insights into growth rates and lifespans in hadrosaurs.

The photos here represent the discovery, excavation and jacketing of Peanut. Preparation is scheduled to start at the Dinosaur Field Station in Malta spring of 2004. However one side of the skull has been prepared. We will update the images as preparation continues.