Colorado Experience: Dinosaurs


– Colorado has played a
pivotal role in paleontology. Hi, I am John Ferrugia. At the end of the
19th century, Colorado was the o for Othniel Marsh
and Edward Cope’s infamous Bone Wars. Additional discoveries, ranging
from the first Stegosaurus skeleton to the largest
dinosaur track site in the US, continue to deepen
human knowledge of these ancient creatures. Dig into “Colorado
Experience: Dinosaurs.” [music playing] – Colorado is famous for
its dinosaur discoveries. – The evidence of
dinosaurs living in Colorado millions of years
ago is unmistakable today. – The Rockies are some of
the best dinosaur hunting grounds anywhere in the world. – But there’re not a whole lot
of places where you suddenly find a huge collection of
dinosaurs all in one spot. – Those footfalls were
actually a real live animal moving across the landscape. – Dinosaurs are the coolest. – This program was funded by
the History Colorado State Historical Fund. – Supporting projects
throughout the state to preserve, protect,
and interpret Colorado’s architectural and
archaeological treasures. History Colorado State
Historical Fund– create the future,
honor the past. – With support from the
Denver Public Library, History Colorado, with
additional funding and support from these fine organizations. and viewers like you. Thank you. [music playing] [dinosaur growling] – It might feel like Colorado’s
a pretty permanent place. It’s the Rocky Mountains, it’s
the Great Plains to the east. But if you were to
go back in time, you’ll see that it’s a
really dynamic landscape. – 152 Million years
ago, the landscape would have looked
very different. – Colorado was
beachfront property. What we think of today as
the front range of Colorado was a large inland sea called
the Western Interior Seaway. – If you were to go back
to 190 million years ago, parts of Colorado were
still under the ocean. – You would have had dense
vegetation near the rivers, near the ponds, near the lakes. – You just kind of have
to imagine something like a flat plain, very
few mountains, rivers, slow meandering rivers, and a
whole bunch of dinosaurs that were living in that system. – Dinosaurs– so big long
neck sauropods walking through meadows of ferns. – And animals that
you could barely touch the belly on
if you reached up really tall like Brachiosaurus,
which was a really tall, large, sauropod dinosaur. – Big carnivorous
dinosaurs, like Allosaurus, hunting those big sauropods. – They would’ve been smaller
than T. rex, bigger than you, big enough to eat you in,
say, seven or eight bites. – Colorado, 65 million years
ago, was a dinosaur highway. Front range of
Colorado was a place where dinosaurs could
move north and south, and you can still follow
in their footprints as you go along the front range
all the way into New Mexico. – We know throughout the Rocky
Mountain West and the Morrison Formation as it’s called– it’s
sort of the hotbed of dinosaur bones of Jurassic age– the
conditions were right to bury bones quickly. – One of the things that
you see on dinosaurs is that if you don’t
have rapid burial, other dinosaurs come in, and
the skeletons get torn apart. And so you end up with
scattered skeletons all over. – And the fossil record
of dinosaurs in Colorado is so great because as you were
building the Rocky Mountains, you were also depositing
sediments off to the sides, and those sediments trapped
those dinosaur fossils. And later, those were pushed
back up by more mountains, and we have them today. So it’s kind of the story of
mountains that really brings us the story of dinosaurs. – The Mesozoic era that we think
of as the age of the dinosaurs lasted from about
250 million years ago to about 65 million years ago. There are different
theories about what happened to the
dinosaurs, theories that revolve around volcanic
activity and climate change. There’s a pretty strong theory
that an extraterrestrial object struck the earth, a
meteorite or a comet, that caused massive
climate change and just changed
the climate in a way that dinosaurs were no
longer able to survive. – Over the next
65 million years, tectonic plates moved, shifted,
crashed into each other creating the world
as we know it today. Mountain ranges
were formed, rivers began to snake their way
from the Continental Divide to the sea, and dinosaur
bones buried deep below layers of
rock and sediment began to shift and emerge
from the earth’s crust. – The dinosaur story is a
really young story for humans. We stumbled across the first
dinosaurs about 160 years ago, and those were found in England. – Scientists were
speculating a lot about what these large fossils
that they were finding really represented. Were they natural
rock formations? Were they evidence of
biblical giants in the earth? – But the first dinosaur
fossil to ever get published was drawn by an artist
and it was the lower end of a femur, a thighbone, and
you had that knee articulation with these two big humps
on it. And it was described as
the scrotum of a giant because they had no idea
that it could possibly be a knee from an
animal that large. So they were
looking to mythology to figure out what it was. – They found skulls of
mastodons with one large hole for where their trunk
went, and they thought, that must be the cyclops. Or were these the bones
of ancient dragons? – Sir Richard Owen was looking
at the dinosaur fossils that were being discovered in
Belgium and the British Isles. – And it was this
brand new group of animals that looked
strangely like birds but also a little
bit like lizards. They were this brand
new fantastic monster on the landscape. – And he coined the name
Dinosauria, which “dino” means terrible and
“soria” is from Soros, the Greek for lizard–
so terrible lizard. And he was the one to first
come up with the name dinosaur. – Across the pond,
Americans began to make a few intriguing
discoveries of their own. Thomas Jefferson excavated
a fossil of a mastodon on his plantation in Virginia. And when he sent Lewis
and Clark into the West one of the instructions
he gave them was, can you keep an eye out? Maybe there’s still
living mastodons roaming up and down the front
range of the Rocky Mountains. He didn’t know if these
creatures were still alive or not. Sadly, Lewis and Clark
were unable to find evidence of living mastodons. – The first dinosaur
discovered in North America was found on the East coast. It was found near
Haddonfield, New Jersey. It was called Hadrosaurus,
which is a duckbilled dinosaur. Haddonfield, New
Jersey was really the breeding ground of a very
notorious scientific rivalry. Joseph Leidy had a student
who was working with him on the fossils from
the Haddonfield quarry, and that student was
Edward Drinker Cope. And one of the people
he gave a tour to was Othniel Charles Marsh. And he showed him
the quarry, and he was telling him what they
were discovered in the quarry. And at the time,
science was done by what is commonly referred
to as Gentlemen Naturalists. There was a very congenial
society where everybody shared ideas and
worked together, and it was a very
refined process. Othniel Charles Marsh came from
a very different walk of life. He had a very capitalistic
view of the world, of buying and selling
and staking a claim. And when he saw the
quarry operations at Haddonfield, New Jersey,
he made arrangements with the quarry owner to
stop shipping their fossils to Joseph Leidy and Cope to
describe and to ship them only to him instead. And that was really the start
of Cope and Marsh’s rivalry. In the early days
of paleontology in the United States, it
is still the Wild West. So it was still moving from
the realm of talented amateurs into academic scholars. – The bone wars
are really centered around two strange characters. O. C. Marsh was based at
the Yale Peabody Museum, and the other was
Edward Drinker Cope, who was based in Philadelphia. – There are two very
opposite personalities. Cope, he’s much more on his own. He’s somewhat arrogant. And what they do is, over
a period of several years, they become a world-renowned
paleontologists in a relatively
short period of time. – But the Bone Wars is
where these two really get into action and start
fighting each other to see who can find the
biggest and best fossils and also undercut their rival. – The rivalry between
Cope and Marsh ended up on the front page
of the New York Times. – Edward Cope was the
first paleontologist to actually assemble
a large fossil back into something like
its original shape. – One of the first
flubs in the Bone Wars was the reconstruction
of a marine reptile we now know was a Plesiosaur. They’re long-necked,
flippered animals that lived in the oceans that
covered a lot of North America. – But he made one key mistake. – He stuck the head
on the back end. So instead of having a
long neck and a short tail, had a short neck
and a long tail. And the first
person to point out this mistake, to his
delight, was his rival Marsh. – And Marsh humiliated
him over this basic error. Marsh and Cope grew to loathe
each other, just a venomous hatred between these two very
outspoken, very ego driven paleontologists, who were trying
to be the best in their field. – It only got worse from there. The feud between Cope
and Marsh is probably one of the nastiest
scientific feuds in history. It wasn’t until the Bone Rush
and the discoveries in Garden Park and the discoveries
near Morrison that Colorado really
became the forefront of dinosaur paleontology. – Arthur Lakes was one
of the first big dinosaur hunters of Colorado. – Arthur Lakes was a British
immigrant who moved to Colorado and got a part time job
as a professor of English and elocution at the
Colorado School of Mines. But he was a very talented
amateur paleontologist as well, and on his days off, he would
hike up and down the Dakota Hogbacks along the front range. And he started noticing
evidence of large bones embedded in what became known
as the Morrison Formation, this treasure
trove of fossil material. – The Morrison Formation is
actually a well-known formation in virtually all the West. You can find it all the
way up into Montana, prolific in Utah, Colorado,
all through Wyoming, down into New Mexico. It’s a formation, and it’s
a late Jurassic formation, pinkish and greenish-looking
shales and some sandstones. – And so he began sending
samples of the fossils to both Cope and Marsh – And so there’s this major
rush to uncover these Morrison Formation Jurassic dinosaurs. – Now Arthur Lakes
was a good scientist. He was trying to spread
the knowledge that he had as widely as possible. But when Cope and Marsh found
that they were both receiving fossils from this
particular very rich find, Arthur Lakes found
himself caught in the middle of something
that he couldn’t control. – If you were to travel
back in time to the 1800s, this was the industrialization
of North America, and that created
a lot of wealth. And with a lot of wealth,
comes a lot of free time, and a lot of these patrons were
interested in earth history and making big collections
that they could parade around the big museums of the East. – So at the same time
there was a Gold Rush, there was a Bone
Rush to Colorado to find these fossils,
to be the first scientist to make your name by
finding a complete skeleton of an ancient creature. – And they were sending
huge teams out to the West, out to places like
Colorado and Wyoming, to look for strange,
big creatures. And everyone was in
competition to get the biggest meanest dinosaurs and
ship them back to the East and show them off. – Cope and Marsh
went into the West with the express purpose
of finding better fossils than the other one. – Reports of fossils were
coming out of the West, and one of the main areas
was the Morrison region, and just to the south, near
Canon City in the Garden Park region. These were areas that were
known by locals to have bones, and both Marsh and Cope sent
teams out to investigate. And it turns out that these are
some of the richest bone fields anywhere in the West. – Marshall Felch
and his future wife, Amanda, both come from Vermont. They go on to go
into the Civil War, and they both become
hospital workers. They marry in Boston, they
come out west, and then, through a really unusual
set of circumstances, 1877, dinosaurs become
something of interest, and they get pulled
into the story. – It was actually in 1877. Bones had been discovered,
and Marsh hears about it. And the rumor is,
by the way, they’ve discovered larger bones
down in Canon City. Professor Marsh contacts
Marshall Felch and he says, would you like to go to work
for the next summer digging fossils? And Marshall Felch is
like, yeah, you bet. – At the time of
the Bone Wars, we were still learning about
the geology of the West. There were still unknown
formations, unknown rock units, and the fossils
that they contained were still a complete mystery. – As they began to start
this excavation in 1883, Professor Marsh said,
I need you to write regular correspondence. I need you to describe what
is it that you’re finding. So he demands maps. He demands drawings. I want to know how it looked
when it was in the ground. I want you to be able
to correlate what you’re finding with what I’m
seeing when it arrives here at Yale Peabody Museum. – They’d get reports of
fossils from certain areas, and they would throw
together a team and then send them out
to collect the fossils, throw them into crates,
and ship them back East. – And there really
wasn’t a lot of guidance. He said, can you send me some
technical guidance on how to excavate fossils, and they
sent him the Yale collection policies. And those are just
basically involve a sack, and walking along, and
collecting fossils, and you put them in the sack. Well, that’s not going to
work for dinosaur bones because a lot of
times what you have is a dinosaur bone
that’s sitting there, and it’s completely fractured. And it’s sitting inside
of really hard rock. Some of the techniques
appear to be developed from plaster jacketing. Well, they didn’t have
plaster initially. They’re using a flour paste. A lot of people think that
these techniques were actually developed in part from their
Civil War experience working with wounded soldiers. So they’re doing everything they
can to harden, protect, wrap, identify, mark, get them into
a box, put it on a wagon, and then come down
that slope that’s over on the other side of the hill,
go all the way to town– it’s about an eight mile journey. And then they go to
the train station, and then unload it, ship
it all the way back East. – And one of the
problems when you have too many fossils coming
out of the ground at once is there’s always
potential for mistakes. in identifying animals,
in naming animals, in how you put animals together. – And they were digging up
lots and lots of fossils. And they were quickly
describing to get the names out before their rivals. And there is one animal that was
given about 12 different names. But in science, the first
name always gets priority. – But this time, there were
also great public events that were around the
unveilings of new dinosaurs and new species. So this was fueling an
appetite in the newspapers and also in the big museums
out East for new discoveries. So the public had a huge
appetite for dinosaurs. – Of the 80 new species
that they claimed to have discovered, only
32 were found to be valid, authentically new discoveries. – Well the biggest
result of the Bone Wars was this new appetite
for discovery, and it drove dinosaur
paleontology for about 50 years after. – The downside of
Cope and Marsh is that they brought
a lot of disrepute to the idea of paleontology. They treated it like a
foot race where there was one winner at the end. – Cope and Marsh,
eventually, their rivalry got the better of them,
and they both ended up dying early unfortunately. But it did a lot
for paleontology. – Though Othniel
Marsh and Edward Cope stole most of the
paleo attention at the end of the 19th
century, other bone hunters were hard at work making
their own discoveries. One such fellow, Elmer
Riggs, took a few ideas from the early gold seekers. – So when you’re
prospecting by horseback, you tend to go a little
slower than, say, riding from town to town. And you just look over
the saddle at the ground as you’re walking by, and you’ll
see plants and you’ll see rock, and what you’re looking
for is something different. And you’ll find something
that’s a different color or a different texture, and
you’ll dismount off the horse. You’ll start to look at
it, and sometimes it’s bone weathering out
of the hillside. So in 1901, Elmer
Riggs and his crew started digging near Fruita
and found a partial skeleton of the Apatosaurus. They found the base of the neck. They found the
trunk of the body. They the limbs. They found most of the tail. But it was a really
great specimen, and Elmer Riggs later
said that it was probably the most important
specimen of his career. In 1903, he publishes
his paper on a specimen, and he’s looking at
the Apatosaurus as well as the Brontosaurus
material from Como Bluff. He said, all the
differences in the skeletons between Brontosaurus
and Apatosaurus have to do with their age. One is a young specimen, one is
an older more mature specimen. So Brontosaurus is just
a different version of Apatosaurus and because
Apatosaurus, the name came first, the stuck. And so what he did
in 1903 was prove that Brontosaurus didn’t exist. – In Colorado, specifically
after the Bone Wars ended, there was this huge appetite
for more discoveries. – Dall DeWeese is a very
important local Canon City figure. – He was trying to reignite
these Bone Wars and continued hunting for dinosaurs. – And he discovers a
dinosaur, and he doesn’t know what to do with it. And he contacts the Colorado
Museum of Natural History. – So in the summer of
1916, the first team funded by the Denver
Museum was down in the area around Canon City
hunting our first dinosaur. And they collected what’s
now known as the DeWeese Diplodocus, and it sits
in our collection today. – But it’s really interesting
how did they get that out. It was so far remote
that they couldn’t get a road or anything in there. They built a sled, and then
used a single, large horse to pull the sled and pull those
bones up out of that canyon. – And a Diplodocus is what
we call a sauropod dinosaur. It had a very long neck. It was a plant eater,
really long tail. It was one of these really
big giant dinosaurs that was all over the
landscape from Wyoming to here during the Jurassic. – In southeast Colorado
near the town of La Junta, along the banks of
the Purgatoire River, lies an area of Comanche
National Grassland known as Picket Wire Canyon. Surely discovered by Native
Americans and early Anglo settlers, this
special spot did not make it into the history
books until the 20th century. – About the year 1934, a
young woman named Betty Jo Riddenoure– she had traveled
to this area on horseback just exploring and came across
this geologic wonder. She was convinced these
look like fossilized tracks of what must be dinosaurs. What is really special
about the place is there are thousands of
dinosaur tracks exposed along the banks of
the Purgatoire River in a limestone. So all of the tracks here,
which are Jurassic age, were naturally exposed. – Apatosaurus, Allosaurus walked
in the mud along a shallow lake more than 100 million years
ago and left their footprints. – In the case of
these tracks, there had to be a very special
set of conditions. Probably as these animals were
walking through a muddy flat, the tracks baked hard
and dry in the sun. And then when the lake reflooded
these tracks and covered them with successive layers
of muddy sediment, they were preserved in that way. The animals were here. They were moving
through this area, and given the other
evidences that we see, it probably was some kind of
a migration route or a route that big herds of
animals would travel. These animals were so
large, 20 ton plus, animals moving
across the landscape. They would leave
such deep footfalls that the pattern of rights
and lefts and rights and lefts is very dramatic, and
that’s why they’re so deep. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s
that Dr. Martin Lockley of UC-Denver came down and
did the first formal census and mapping of these trackways. He determined this is among the
first, if not the first place, that communal behavior, or
herding behavior, in dinosaurs was recognized. Tracks are a study of behavior. We can learn a lot of
things from skeletons, but one thing we can never
learn from skeletons absolutely, bones and teeth, is behavior. When we look at the trackway,
we’re studying behavior. They recognize that there was
evidence of herding behavior, and most of the big
herbivorous dinosaurs were recognized to be a group
of teenagers or sub-adults. Additionally, we
now have evidence that a lot of the
carnivores at this site were moving in the same
direction as the plant eaters. So it’s almost as
if the meat eaters were hot on the heels
of the plant eaters. It’s the largest
mapped assemblage of dinosaur trackways
in North America. And the Forest Service,
through its volunteers, have continued to excavate
portions of the site that the river reburied. And we’re approaching
2000 tracks that are exposed here now. The Purgatoire Valley track site
is both the biggest dinosaur track site in North America,
and it’s the first place that herding
behavior in dinosaurs was really taken
seriously and discussed. So that’s the real
magic, and that’s what we’re building
on with the science. – So you can walk along the
bank of the Purgatoire River, and you’re walking in the
footprints of monsters. – The state fossil of
Colorado is the Stegosaurus, which is really appropriate
because the first Stegosaurus was found in Colorado. But also the three most complete
skeletons of Stegosaurus have been found in Colorado
in the area around Canon City. – The Stegosaurus is one of
the most iconic dinosaurs. It is about the size of a small
bus, has a fairly small head, has a long tail with spikes
at the end of the tail, and it has these
beautiful plates along the midline of the back–
big, broad, diamond-shaped plates that go all the
way along the back, and they’re really quite lovely. – In 1937, a local high
school teacher by the name of Professor Kessler– he’s
actually out working with high school students
here in Canon City, and Professor Kessler
discovers the beginnings of a Stegosaurus. And he contacts the
Denver Museum, who’s got a good paleontology staff
by then on board, and he says, I’ve discovered
something important. They send their excavator
down to Canon City, and they begin
excavating in 1937. By 1940, an amazing
Stegosaurus goes on display at the Denver Museum
of Nature and Science. – And in the early 1980s,
students in McElwain Elementary School nominated the Stegosaurus
as Colorado’s official state fossil. – That particular Stegosaurus
is now a Colorado State fossil, and that was discovered
in Canon City. – In the 1960s,
paleontologists were developing some
radically different ideas of what dinosaurs look
like and how they behave. – So the 1960s, early 1970s
are termed the Dinosaur Renaissance, and it really
started with Dr. John Ostrom, who was really instrumental
in starting the Dinosaur Renaissance. – At the University of Colorado,
a number of paleontologists, including Robert Bakker were
involved in completely revising our image of dinosaurs
as these slow, dull, cold-blooded lizards. – And it was the discovery
of a dinosaur called Deinonychus
Deinonychus is related to the Maniraportans
which are called the raptors in “Jurassic Park.” They’re really small, agile,
long-armed, long-limbed, sickle claw on the foot,
predatory dinosaurs. And as he was describing
Deinonychus from Oklahoma, he was noticing that the
anatomy was extremely birdlike from the wrist
to the pelvis to the legs to the skull to the vertebrae. He brought back that
idea that was originally proposed by Sir
Richard Owen centuries before that dinosaurs and birds
are really closely related and that just push the dinosaur
paleontology from, oh, these are old ancient big lizards. – And arguing that dinosaurs
were much more dynamic, that they were warm-blooded,
that they were much more active than we thought they were, that
they had very sophisticated herd patterns and
behavioral patterns. – And they would
have been colorful. They would have been hunters. And what that did was it opened
up all these new questions, all these new hypotheses
to test and to really drive dinosaur science further. – And so this new
Dinosaur Renaissance started to think of
dinosaurs as living creatures for the first time. – One of the things about
the fossils from here that’s both wonderful
and makes it tough is that a lot of times the
skeletons are joined together. And when the Stegosaurus
that was found in 1992– the entire body
was still intact. And when they looked
at it, they said there’s no way we can remove
it without destroying it. We have to take it
out in one piece. So they excavated over top. They did the preservation. And then a local mining
company, by the name of Colorado Quarries, drilled
underneath the whole skeleton, put large beams,
tied it all together, and it was that structure
that enabled the whole thing to be airlifted with
a Chinook helicopter. It was in a steep valley so
a Chinook was the only way to do it. So fortunately we were able
to contact Fort Carson, and they provided
a great helicopter pilot, who had been
in the Vietnam War, and he said this might be the
most interesting thing I’ve ever lifted. So it was pretty fun to
see the thing actually come out of the ground
in a single piece and be brought back. Colorado has a long history
of dinosaur exploration, and the hunger for
paleontological discovery continues today. – Cope and Marsh– all of their
effort was pushed into digging up dinosaurs before their
rivals and naming them first. What we’re doing now
is we’re doing sort of these larger scale analyses. – And for the last 150
years, every new discovery is really pieced in that
puzzle about what dinosaurs looked like, how they behaved. And in many ways, the
last 20 or 30 years have been a new
Dinosaur Renaissance. – We’re still making
new discoveries. We’re still uncovering
new pieces of evidence. – And today, it’s so much more
interesting than it ever was. – When contractors were
building Coors Field, they found part of a Triceratops
skeleton underneath home plate. – A lot of paleontologists say
that the best fossils are still waiting to be found,
and that really is true. – There are monsters
in our backyards today. Dinosaur fossils, fossils
of ancient sea life, fossils of mastodons dot the entire
Front Range and Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. – Each one tells
a little bit more. There’s a little bit
more to the story. – And so this amazing
rich fossil record is one of the most important
windows into that history. We study the past to learn
more about ourselves, and we live in a
fascinating world. And the fact that Colorado
is this rich repository of the ancient past
teaches us a little bit about how we live in this
amazing landscape today. – Colorado is really
a birthing ground for Morrison paleontology, which
has shaped the entire dinosaur gold rush of the
1800S which is then filtered in through pop
culture, through the Dinosaur Renaissance, to today. – For many people,
when they get in touch with what’s around them,
what’s under their feet, then you begin to realize
how magical this planet is and has been for a really
long period of time. – And places like Picket
Wire Canyonlands just really deepen and
accentuate that deep history that Colorado has. And it’s not just dinosaurs. It’s life before dinosaurs,
life after dinosaurs, and certainly life during
the time of dinosaurs, like in the Jurassic. – A lot of work continues
to be done in Colorado, and I think the next
decade or two decades, we’re going to have a lot
of new, big discoveries coming out of Colorado that will
really change the way we think about dinosaurs. – When you think of all
of the historical dinosaur quarries that are
here and you throw in something like the
largest dinosaur track site in North
America into the mix, that’s a pretty cool
blend right there. – Dinosaurs in Colorado are some
of the first and best examples from anywhere in the world. And Colorado has some
of the most fossils and will continue to produce
great fossils for years to come. [music playing]

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Reader Comments

  1. Joe Smith

    Typical scientism believer gobbledygook. Make up a narrative to to fit the theory. Then magically discover evidence to prove it. Just like a missing link. Just make up the gobbledygook as you go. Yet millions of brain dead scientism cult members eat this shyt up.

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