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Paleontologists Find First Ever Oregon Dinosaur Fossil

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Photos of the fossil. The University of Oregon scientists found the first and, possibly, the only dinosaur bone in the state. Oregon was submerged underwater for most of the dinosaur period.   ( University of Oregon )

Scientists from the University of Oregon discovered a dinosaur bone believed to have belonged to a plant-eating bipedal ornithopod.

The dinosaur bone, which was once a part of a toe, is believed to be of the plant-eating dinosaur who roamed the planet around 103 million years ago during the Cretaceous, the period that also saw the rise of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. It is the first ever dinosaur bone to be found in the state.

The discovery was reported in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Dinosaurs In Oregon?

Greg Retallack, an earth sciences professor from the University of Oregon, found the dinosaur bone in 2015 during a trip near the town of Mitchell. He and his students were surveying a shale slope on Bureau of Land Management when they spotted the bone among mollusk fossils preserved in rocks.

The discovery comes as a surprise because Oregon was submerged underwater for the most part of the dinosaur age.

"Oregon landscapes are rich with Cretaceous rocks, but they rarely contain the kinds of dinosaur remains we see elsewhere in the U.S.," explained Retallack. "The rocks here are the right age but are mostly from under the sea where dinosaurs did not live or from swamps where dinosaur bones are seldom preserved."

Edward Davis, fossil collections manager at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History and a co-author of the paper, suggested that the dinosaur bone ended up in present-day Oregon after the ornithopod had died. He said that the animal died on shore, but was later swept into the sea where it floated while bloated with decomposition gases. He called this phenomenon "bloat and float." Eventually, however, the dinosaur corpse exploded and only its toe got preserved.

The Oregon Ornithopod Dinosaur Bone

Retallack also compared the dinosaur toe bone to other ornithopods. He found that the creature that once owned the toe bone grew up to more than 20-feet long and probably weighed nearly a ton.

The team will continue looking closely for more dinosaur bones in Eastern Oregon, but Retallack admits that they do not expect to see any more. He said, however, that he already made another startling discovery during the search.

The ornithopod toe bone is expected to be displayed at the University of Oregon's Museum of National and Cultural History by next month and then play a role at next year's "Explore Oregon" exhibit.

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