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Digging up Dinosaurs in Connecticut

Bigger, faster, taller! With each passing year, new species of dinosaurs are added to the ranks of ferocious predators and towering herbivores. Paleontologists continue to dig up bones of large Giganotosaurus in South America and uncover evidence of feathered dinosaurs capable of flight, like the Changyuraptor in China. But do you know what’s hidden right under your feet?

When highway construction workers in Connecticut unexpectedly unearthed an ancient lakebed in 1966, they happened upon the largest concentration of Eubrontes giganteus fossil footprints in the world. The finding halted highway construction while scientists examined the area to find approximately 2,000 fossil footprints. The discovery remains Connecticut’s largest and most famous dinosaur discovery to date, with 600 of the footprints now on display at Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill.

What type of dinosaur was Eubrontes? The answer remains a BIG mystery. Eubrontes is the name of the fossilized footprint, but not the name of the dinosaur that left these tracks. Unless dinosaur bones are found alongside footprints, paleontologists have no way of knowing which dinosaur formed the tracks. However, researchers did compare the three-toed prints, ranging in size between 10─16 inches in length and 10─12 inches in width, to other dinosaurs that lived during the early Jurassic period. The Eubrontes prints most resemble Dilophosaurus – a bipedal theropod known for its speed and carnivorous nature.

Where are all the bones?

Unlike the dry American west and open landscape of Patagonia, where erosion exposes layers of the earth’s crust, Connecticut is full of dense vegetation that covers up much of what hides below. Most of the Paleontological discoveries made in Connecticut occur by accident and usually occur at construction sites, where vegetation is removed and workers dig deep enough to uncover sedimentary rock.

Few bones have been found in Connecticut, most from quarries in Manchester, where excavation yielded partial remains including an Anchisaurus backbone, right arm, right leg and skull currently preserved at the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven. So far, only three different dinosaurs have been discovered in Connecticut, but none of the findings form a full skeleton: Coelophysis (a predatorial theropod), Anchisaurus (a prosauropod – the smaller, ancestral group of the tallest and heaviest herbivores) and Ammosaurus (which many researchers believe to be Anchisaurus).

“One possible reason for why we have found so few bones in Connecticut concerns the soil. Organic matter (skin and bones) decomposes quickly in acidic soil,” says Armand Morgan, a science educator at the Peabody Museum. “200 million years ago Connecticut had a very different climate than what we are used to. It was dry and hot most of the year with a monsoon season that formed rivers and lakes. Dinosaurs would track through the mud while these areas were drying up, leaving impressions that would eventually turn into sedimentary rock.”

Want to have a dino-mite summer? There’s plenty to see in Connecticut when it comes to dinosaur attractions. With a CT Dino Trail Passport, you can travel to the Connecticut Science Center to dig up dinosaur bones, compare the size of your feet with the Eubrontes footprints at Dinosaur State Park, view a collection of real dinosaur skeletons at Yale Peabody Museum and cool off in a dinosaur-themed water park at The Dinosaur Place at Nature’s Art Village. Keep an eye out during your travels and you may discover something new!

Samantha Woznica