An ancient discovery in the desert north of Grand Junction is proving to be quite significant. Years after it was first unearthed, Fruita's Dinosaur Journey Museum is working to put the pieces back together.
Lab technicians like Kay Fredette have their hands full with this one. Their latest specimen is called a Xiphactinus.
"It was the top predator during its day and ate several smaller fish," Fredette explained. "There was a discovery somewhere else a few years back with a relatively large fish inside its stomach!"
Understandably, staff at the museum is excited to see bones from a sea creature come into their lab.
"We dig dinosaurs all the time and we almost never get marine fossils," she explained. "It's something new a different."
And this one is quite the catch. At 12 feet long, the Xiphactinus is a relatively young animal (full grown Xiphactinus range from 15 feet to 20 feet). It's estimated to be about 50 million years old having lived during the Paleocene Epoch.
"These are the two jackets that we just removed last week," Fredette explained while pointing to some rather large tubs of dirt. "This all came from the backyard of a house in Grand Junction."
That is another aspect making this find extremely rare, according to Fredette. Xiphactinus weren't known to live this far into the Inland Sea that covered much of the center of North America at the time. And, these kinds of fossils aren't often preserved or found in the very brittle Mancos Shale.
"Any fossil in the Mancos Shale is pretty rare," Fredette described. "Most of what died in the ocean got eaten by something else."
The dig site is located off K 3/4 Road. Susan Webster, the home's owner, told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel that her nephew, Jed Smith, first discovered the remains about 10 years ago.
It wasn't until earlier this year that the museum in Fruita took serious notice.
"I hope we can find more vertebrae, but this skeleton is definitely not complete," Fredette explained.
Volunteers suspect this animal's carcass was fed on which helped spread its bones across vast areas of the ocean floor. Fredette says small fragments of the jaw, skull and ribs have been found so far.
Museum staff hopes to have the local find on display by next Spring.
Xiphactinus fossilized remains in the United States have been found in Kansas, Alabama and Georgia. According to the Associated Press, a state representative in Kansas proposed legislation in 2010 that would have made Xiphactinus the state fossil.