Garden of Gods dinosaur now seen as one of a kind
In 1878, a scientist found proof that at least one dinosaur had lived (and died) within the boundaries of the present-day Garden of the Gods.
Only very recently did a further proof come out: The creature was unique. None like it has ever been found.
Gauged at three tons and 30 feet long from head to tail, the new genus/species - Theiophytalia kerri - was revealed at a public press conference May 24 at the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center.
The first part of the name combines two Greek words that roughly translate to “the Garden of the Gods,” while “kerri” refers to James Kerr, the scientist who discovered the fossilized skull fragment 130 years ago but mistakenly identified it as belonging to a Camptosaurus dinosaur.
The press conference included the unveiling of a new center exhibit that explains the discovery and depicts what the creature may have looked like. “We're just thrilled about this,” said Bonnie Frum, director of center operations. “Colorado Springs has its very own dinosaur.”
Speaking at the press conference were Dr. Kenneth Carpenter, a paleontology curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science; Kathleen Brill, a museum volunteer; and Melissa Walker, former interpreter at the center.
Carpenter, who began studying Kerr's find about 12 years ago, initially “had doubts about it being a Camptosaurus,” he told the press conference. It didn't match that type of Jurassic-era dinosaur in terms of skull shape and length or the position of nasal and eye-socket openings; in addition, soil remnants on the skull were more recent than the Jurassic period.
Carpenter and Brill proceeded to publish a paper maintaining that Theiophytalia was a plant-eater from the Cretaceous period, living 100 to 125 million years ago - which makes it “30 to 50 million years younger than had been thought,” he said.
The area 100 million years ago “was changing a lot,” he explained. “The seaway was coming down from Canada that would split North America into two land masses.” The temperature was “hot and muggy; be glad you weren't living then.”
Brill also described research that went into narrowing down where in the Garden the skull was actually unearthed. Kerr had reported finding what he called a “sea monster” fragment in a ridge “east of the red rocks of the Garden of the Gods.” Through analysis of a rock piece that had been attached to the fossil, the paleontologists now believe the area around the former visitor center, off Juniper Way Loop, is the probable site.
Walker said the steps to Theiophytalia were instigated by the development of the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center in 1995 and interpreters' desire to give it a dinosaur exhibit. At the time, locals were ignorant of Kerr's dig, but fortunately Carpenter had heard of it, and the skull was traced to Yale University's Peabody Museum.
Westside Pioneer article