New evidence of Denali dinosaurs

Dinosaur bones have been found in Denali National Park. The bone fragments were discovered this summer by a team of University of Alaska Fairbanks and National Park Service scientists. The researchers found the bones on a mountain slope in the Cantwell rock formation, north of the Park Road.

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UA Museum of the North curatorial intern Heather MacFarland, who found the first bone, at the site of the discovery in Denali National Park (Photo courtesy of UA Museum of the North)
UA Museum of the North curatorial intern Heather MacFarland, who found the first bone, at the site of the discovery in Denali National Park (Photo courtesy of UA Museum of the North)

Dinosaur tracks have previously been found in similar rock in the Park, and UA Museum of the North earth sciences curator Pat Druckenmiller says the bones are an exciting development.

“Because tracks can give you a certain type of information, but bones can add a lot more to that story,” Druckenmiller said.

Druckenmiller said the bone fragments are likely from a duck billed dinosaur, which were common in Alaska 70 million years ago, noting that one of the bones provides more specific insight.

”It’s called an ossified tendon and it’s really distinctive for the group so we can probably say with some certainty that we know at least what one kind of animal was making tracks there,” Druckenmiller said.

Druckenmiller says the bones may be from a species he and colleagues discovered along the Colville River on North Slope. Druckenmiller, who has done field research around the world, says the bones are less than 2 inches in length, but stand out to team members trained eyes, in the rocky terrain.

”Because they tend to weather a lighter color, a bluish color,” Druckenmiller said. “And it has a very distinctive texture just like modern bone.”

Druckenmiller is optimistic more bones will be discovered in the area of this summer’s find.

“We found these bones actually on our first day out so I think that bodes well for future discoveries,” Druckenmiller said.

The Denali research team will continue to explore the area in future summers, as part of the collaboration which also includes Florida State University Professor Greg Erickson.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.