By Linda Kor
Petrified Forest National Park’s (PFNP) acquisition of the Hatch Ranch last year as part of its expansion program is leading to new discoveries.
Prior to the acquisition, scientists were given permission to explore portions of the area and as a result, dis-covered the world’s most complete record of the Revueltosaurus, a descendent of today’s crocodile, which wandered the earth about 200 million years ago. Now with the new land acquisition, paleontologists are able to delve much further into the 26,000-acre area. This summer alone, three more Revueltosaurus skeletal remains were discovered in the same area as the original discovery, leading one to wonder why these creatures, believed to be about the size of today’s Komodo Dragon, were so prominent in the region.
“Our goal is to continue to uncover more of the remains and try to figure out what exactly occurred here. In most finds we see a variety of individuals in one location, in this instance we are finding a large number of one kind in one place, indicating a cataclysmic event,” explained Bill Parker, a paleontologist with PFNP.
The park has been a gold mine of exploration for paleontologists and other scientists from throughout the country. For many years researchers from the Smithsonian Institution, Yale University, Baylor University and other renowned research facilities have come to the park to study the paleoecology, geologic layers and climate information that the soil and its contents reveal.
While it’s difficult to comprehend that the dry desert of the Petrified Forest was once filled with lush foliage and a vast river that, according to Parker, was as big as the Mississippi, research on the area has provided evi-dence that hundreds of millions of years ago that’s precisely what the situation was.
“We are able to date the earth layer by layer and determine by the plant and animal life what took place here. There are differences in the types of flora and soil that would be found in a lake, pond or river. These re-sults are consistent through all the layers throughout the park,” stated Parker.
He suspects that the cataclysmic event that ended the lives of that particular group of Revueltosaurus may have been a flash flood. “Usually we find a variety of bones from different species in one area, but this was a special event and we’re still looking at why. We have found remnants of 11 different Revueltosaurus. This brings more questions like were they social, did they live in family groups and what brought them here,” he said.
PFNP is developing a cast of the Revueltosaurus that will be on display in the park in the not too distant future. The park is also working to open an additional room at the Rainbow Forest Museum that will include a mural depicting the changing landscape of the park over the last 200 million years. In addition, there will be more displays of other rare finds uncovered at the park. The new exhibit is expected to be available for public viewing in the next two months.
By Linda Kor