St. George building DinosaurAh!torium

St. George building DinosaurAh!torium

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ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) -- This city is building a metal building to protect thousands of ancient fossils unearthed in southern Utah.

The 16,000-square-foot DinosaurAh!torium is being funded by federal, state and city governments. It will cost more than $1 million and should be complete by mid-September.

It will be built over a portion of the Johnson Farm Track Site, which has become the focus of fossil excavation and paleontology research since Sheldon Johnson unearthed the first fossils in February 2000.

Since then, the site has yielded some of the most unique fossils in North America.

More than 1,000 tracks have been discovered at the site, including footprints of three-toed Eubrontes and several large "potholes," believed by some paleontologists to be the oldest record of Sauropds -- large plant-eaters -- in North America.

The most recent find, a trace fossil of where a half-ton creature probably once sat, maybe while eating a fish, has drawn national attention because it provides a glimpse into the behavior of the prehistoric animal.

The metal building will keep the fossils from being exposed to heat, wind and rain. Also planned for the new structure are an office, a classroom, and a gift shop.

While exposed, the fossils have been treated with a polymer-plastic preservative.

But Andrew Milner, site paleontologist, said that's not enough -- especially as the heat rises.

"It's a concern," Milner said. "You'll hear some paleontologists say the heat doesn't affect the fossils. I'm physically seeing that it is."

Milner said the site sits on what was probably a mud flat at the edge of Jurassic-era Lake Dixie.

He said that explains why so many trace fossils of dinosaur movement, both in and out of water, have been found.

"That's one of the great things about tracks -- you can see what the animal was doing 200-million years ago," Milner said.

"I have a feeling there's going to be more. There's real potential at this bone locality."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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