The Story

Volunteers unearth Small Quarry stegosaurus.The story started in June of 1992, when Ken Carpenter was having his annual field excursion with volunteers from the Denver Museum of Natural History (now known as the Denver Museum of Nature and Science) in Garden Park near Cañon City, CO. Bryan Small, Ken’s assistant, was searching for fossils with several museum volunteers when he came upon a chance discovery. While searching for microvertebrate fossils, Bryan scraped his rock hammer against a mudstone outcrop of the Morrison Formation and something unusual was knocked lose. To his surprise it turned out to be the fossilized vertebra of a Stegosaurus stenops and after digging a little bit more, they realized that there were more bones buried there.

img102After discussing the importance of the discovery with Ken, Bryan and the volunteers returned the next day to excavate the site during the remainder of the field camp. They soon uncovered a complete skull, one of only two Stegosaurus skulls in existence at that time! What was even more fascinating was that around the throat of was a patch of quarter-sized bones called ossicles, that acted as throat armor for the Stegosaurus. For the first time they were preserved as they were in life, unlike earlier discoveries that had them scattered all about the skeleton. Due to the rarity and scientific importance of the skull they knew they could not leave the skull at the site when they left. They were worried that if they were to leave it, there was a high chance that the skull could be stolen or damaged. In order to prevent this, the head and neck bones were separated from the rest of the body and encased in a plaster jacket made from layers of burlap soaked in plaster of Paris. The plaster jacket would help stabilize and protect the skull as it was transported to the museum in Denver. With the head safely in their possession, they decided they could leave for a while so they can regroup and prepare to excavate the rest of the body.