The high desert of remote central Nevada feels about far away from a subtropical seaway as can be imagined. But rewind the clock 220 million years ago and this dry landscape was innundated by a shallow ocean teeming with clams and shelled squid relatives called ammonites.
The top of this ancient Triassic food web was occupied by a gigantic ocean-dwelling reptile descended from small lizard-like ancestors. This gigantic predator, Shonisaurus popularis, is now recognized as the state fossil of Nevada and is a member of an iconic group of marine reptiles, the ichthyosaurs, contemporaries of the dinosaurs that ruled the oceans for more than one hundred and fifty million years.
Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, located near the town of Gabbs, preserves a unique concentration of Shonisaurus skeletons, recording an enigmatic epsiode of mass-death. How did so many gigantic marine predators die and come to be preserved in one place?
Earlier this month a team from our lab went into the Triassic, and visited this world-class fossil locality armed with cameras and digital tools to construct high resolution 3D models of this Shonisaurus mass mortality horizon. We hope that this new dataset will help us to solve this murder mystery, unsolved for more than two hundred million years.
Stay tuned for more!
-Guest Post, Neil Kelley, Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellow