PORTLAND, OR — It was three years ago and Professor Greg Retallack of the University of Oregon’s earth sciences department was leading an expedition in Mitchell, on the eastern side of the state. He was accompanied by students from a class on fossil plants.
Fossils found in Oregon had always been plants and sea animals because in the period when dinosaurs roamed the earth, most of Oregon was underwater. Beach front properties would have been in the Blue Mountains.
That’s what made what happened next so unusual.
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As Retallack and his students examined a shale slope on land owned by the Bureau o Land Management, focusing on the many mollusk fossils, something jumped out:
Researchers have determined the toe was about 103 million years old and belonged to a plant-eating dinosaur known as an ornithopod.
So does this mean that scientists are rethinking dinosaurs in Oregon?
Scientists say that what likely happened was the dinosaur died, floated out to sea, and the toe was the only piece that somehow ended up in a rock, where it fossilized.
Retallack, who is the director of fossil collections for the University of Oregon’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History, announced the discovery in a paper published earlier this month in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
The paper was co-written by Jessica Theodor of the University of Calgary and Paul Barrett, a doctoral student at the University of Oregon.
Photo via University of Oregon.