By Sophie Gorman Oriani
In April, paleontologists and volunteers digging at Laurel’s Dinosaur Park discovered what Matthew Carrano, a paleontologist with the Smithsonian, called “certainly the most significant collection of dinosaur bones discovered along the eastern seaboard in the last hundred years,” according to a Prince George’s County July press release.
Numerous dinosaur bones, including a 3-foot-long shin bone and 4-foot-long limb bone, were discovered, according to J.P. Hodnett, the paleontologist and program coordinator at Dinosaur Park. Hodnett is employed by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s Department of Parks and Recreation.
“In a small area, seven species were found,” Hodnett said, in an interview. “They are over 115 million years old, from the early Cretaceous period. That’s 50 million years older than the T. Rex. It’s pretty exciting.”
A former riverbed where a mine once stood, Dinosaur Park is now considered a bonebed, Hodnett said, because of the multiple bones located in a geologic layer. It is the first bonebed to be discovered in Maryland since 1887.
Professionals are actively digging throughout the year, Hodnett said. The public, too, can help look for fossils at open houses held on the first and third Saturday of every month. While digging is not allowed, small bones, teeth and pinecones have all been found and preserved in the park’s collections by people using their eyes and sifting dirt gently with their fingers, Hodnett said.
“When people come, they help us collect and preserve fossils,” Hodnett said, adding, “Mother Nature does a lot of work for us.”
While the recently discovered limb bone is from an as-of-yet unidentified dinosaur, the shin bone belonged to a theropod; the most famous dinosaur in this group is the Tyrannosaurus rex. Hodnett believes it belongs to an Acrocanthosaurus, the largest theropod in the Early Cretaceous period, which was about 38 feet long. Scientists have previously found Acrocanthosaurus teeth at Dinosaur Park.
“As it is a riverbed, it is unlikely we’ll find a complete skeleton,” Hodnett said, though he couldn’t hide his excitement at the possibility of future discoveries. “There’s more to be found. It’s going to take a long time.”
Laurel’s Dinosaur Park, at 13100 Mid Atlantic Boulevard, has a playground and garden which are open to the public daily. Visitors can also view the dig sites during educational programs. For more information, go to pgparks.com/parks_trails/dinosaur-park