Episode 20: Digging the Dawn of Dinosaurs – Paleontology at Ghost Ranch

Hi all. Adam Pritchard here.

I’ve been thinking about telling the story of my field experience in the Triassic-aged Chinle Formation of northern New Mexico for many years. The Hayden Quarry fossil site at Ghost Ranch has produced the best-preserved and most diverse record of American dinosaurs from the Triassic of North America, plus some of the strangest reptiles that ever lived. I’ve been proud to be a part of the Ghost Ranch field crew for nearly a decade now!

Adam digs dinosaurs.
Paleontologist Adam Pritchard excavating around a mini plaster jacket, likely containing some kind of tiny reptile fossil.


The large paleontological field crew at Ghost Ranch in 2017 excavated well over 1000 fossils in only a few weeks!
The 2017 Ghost Ranch field crew, standing proud by H4.

First off, here are some links to exhibits and museum experiences relating to the Ghost Ranch project, including the recent Hayden Quarry discoveries:


The Ruth Hall Museum of Paleontology at Ghost Ranch


Paleontology at Ghost Ranch Jan-Term courses


Shelf Life episode about the Ghost Ranch area and dinosaur evolution.


I thought it’d also be good to add some links to the MANY books scientific papers that have come out of Ghost Ranch paleontology since the beginning of the twentieth century:


Colbert EH. 1995. Little Dinosaurs of Ghost Ranch. Columbia University Press, New York. 232 pp.

  • Popular book on Ghost Ranch dinosaur discoveries by the great twentieth century paleontology Edwin Colbert (who deserves GREAT thanks for his contribution to the discovery of the original Coelophysis.


Colbert EH. 1989. The Triassic dinosaur Coelophysis. Museum of Northern Arizona Bulletin 57:1–160.

  • Classic paper on anatomy of the classic Ghost Ranch dinosaur and the history of its discovery. Currently not available online, as far as I can tell.


Long RA and Murry PA. 1995. Late Traissic (Carnian and Norian) tetrapods from the southwestern United States. Bulletin of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History 4.


Irmis RB, Nesbitt SJ, Padian K, Smith ND, Turner AH, Downs A. 2007. A Late Triassic dinosauromorph assemblage from New Mexico and the rise of dinosaurs. Science 317:358–361.


Nesbitt SJ, Smith ND, Irmis RB, Turner AH, Downs A, Norell MA. 2009. A complete skeleton of a Late Triassic saurischian from the early evolution of dinosaurs. Science 326:1530–1533.


Whiteside JH, et al. 2015. Extreme ecosystem instability suppressed tropical dinosaur dominance for 30 million years. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112:7909–7913.


Lessner EJ, Stocker MR, Smith ND, Turner AH, Irmis RB, Nesbitt SJ. 2016. A new rauisuchid (Archosauria, Pseudosuchia) from the Upper Triassic (Norian) of New Mexico increases the diversity and temporal range of the clade. PeerJ 4:e2336.


Pritchard AC, Turner AH, Nesbitt SJ, Irmis RB, Smith ND. 2015. Late Triassic tanystropheids (Reptilia, Archosauromorpha) from northern New Mexico (Petrified Forest Member, Chinle Formation) and the biogeography, functional morphology, and evolution of Tanystropheidae. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 35: e911186.



Pritchard AC, Turner AH, Irmis RB, Nesbitt SJ, Smith ND. 2016. Extreme modification of the tetrapod forelimb in a Triassic diapsid reptile. Current Biology 26:2779–2786.

Hungry grad students!
The end of a long day of fieldwork. Everyone gathers at the campground and waits hungrily for dinner.

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Filed under: Diapsids, Ecology, Fieldwork, Mesozoic, Paleontology, Triassic, dinosaur, evolution

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