Utah Geological Study
Don DeBlieux shows the "Last Chance Ceratopsian" in Salt Lake lab of the Utah Geologic Survey. He discovered the skull in 2002.

It looks like a movie-monster creation or the evil cousin of the Triceratops. And this new dinosaur fossil, discovered in Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, has two local scientists on cloud nine.

Paleontologists Don DeBlieux and Jim Kirkland were in Ontario, Canada, Friday, announcing their rhino-size find at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists.

So far, it's being called the "Last Chance Ceratopsian," Last Chance being the name of a stream near to where it was found. A formal name will be given in a year.

DeBlieux found the unique, 26-horned creature in 2002, during a Utah Geologic Survey team paleontological resources inventory trip. He was snapping a picture of a nearby site when something caught his eye.

"I stopped and put my backpack down on a sandstone ledge and saw bone," he said in a statement. "If I had stopped three feet away, I might have missed it."

That bone turned out to be half of a skull of a new genus of long-horned centrosaurine ceratopsid. In English: a dinosaur with long nose horns and short spiny frills, related to the well-known Triceratops.

It took three years to extract the fossil from the rocky ledge. The group used a gas-powered saw to cut existing rock from the skull and eventually chipped the block to 1,000 pounds. Because of the remote area where it was found, in September 2005 a helicopter flew the giant piece to a truck. It was then driven to the UGS lab in Salt Lake City. Since, several hundred hours have been spent on extracting the skull.

The dinosaur lived during the Cretaceous Period, about 80-82 million years ago. The rest of the body cannot be unearthed because most of it has washed away, said Tammy Kikuchi, Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman. She said the paleontologists believe the fossil remains may have rolled down the hill or washed away.

"They were pretty excited to find this much of a skull," she said. "The way it was in the rock, it leads them to believe that the top half of the skull was probably exposed to the elements."

The creature probably measured in at 15-feet long and 6-feet tall at the shoulders. As for the skull, the frill horns atop the head are about 2 feet long, the brown horns are about 12 inches long and the cheek horns about 5 inches long.

"Last Chance Ceratopsian" is the first of its group to be found outside Montana. Kikuchi said the fossil will eventually be displayed at the Utah Museum of Natural History at the University of Utah.

The skull will also be on display Wednesday at 11 a.m. in the Utah Core Research Center at 240 N. Redwood Road for the dino's first public viewing.


E-mail: astowell@desnews.com