Come hear the story and science of a 35-foot mosasaur discovered in Cedaredge in 1975 on May 14 at the Grand Mesa Arts & Events Center at 7 p.m. for a "Voices on the Western Slope" presentation, "Mosasaur Discovery." The event will feature three guests: Gary Thompson, who is credited with the discovery; Joshua Lively, a recent Ph.D. graduate who studied the remains; and Robert Gaston who created the cast of the skeleton.
Thompson discovered the fossilized remains as a 15-year-old boy. He will share the excitement of finding the remains on the side of Cedar Mesa while fossil hunting. While Thompson is proud of the discovery, he said it hasn't come without its challenges. Since the first article was published on the find, he's battled to ensure proper credit -- with everyone from his school bullies claiming to help with the find to someone else entirely taking full credit.
"It's important to get the facts straight," he said. "When I discovered the remains, I made sure to contact my science teacher Dick Jones who assisted me in protecting the fossilized remains and to contact the proper authorities from BYU for further study and preservation."
From this battle for credit where credit is due, Thompson diligently recorded the details he remembers of the experience, which he'll share Thursday evening. However, Thompson plans to be succinct in his portion of the evening, wanting the presentation to focus on the science and significance of the discovery.
Lively, a recent Ph.D graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, is a vertebrate paleontologist. He's studying mosasaur evolution extensively to understand the relation between their evolution and changes in the environment.
Lively's presentation will discuss his research and how the Cedaredge mosasaur fits into the picture.
"One thing we do when trying to understand evolution in deep time is to go to museum collections where specimens are preserved," he said referring to why he studied the Cedaredge mosasaur now on display at the BYU museum. "I really wanted to study the specimen at BYU because even though it was originally published in 1999, it has only been referenced a couple times since then in mosasaur literature."
In 2016 he visited the fossil and was shown newly prepared bones that revealed important information for "understanding this animal's ancestry and telling the complete story of how it fits into mosasaur evolution."
The Cedaredge mosasaur is now a whole chapter in his dissertation.
"Mosasaurs in general are interesting because right around the time Prognathodon stadtmani shows up on the scene there's a period of ecological diversification," he said. "The Cedaredge mosasaur shows that the pattern of this diversification and the broader evolutionary story in this group of mosasaurs is complex than previously thought. Ultimately, my research has shown that Prognathodon stadtmani requires reclassification into a new genus."
Lively encourages anyone who has property in Delta County to keep an eye out, especially if they have mudrock. "You might find something interesting, and it may be the next important fossil discovery," he said. If anyone's curious, he said they can always send him a picture of their finds.
Those curious to see the size of the mosasaur, whose jaw measures about four feet, will get to see samples of the skeleton cast. Gaston, of Gaston Design in Fruita, will discuss the casting process of the skeleton.
There is a recommended donation of $10 at the door to cover presentation costs.
For more information, contact Cedaredge Library at 970-399-7674 or Grand Mesa Arts and Events Center at 970-856-9195.