Southern Utah News Articles
Fossil expert to speak in Kanab
A world-traveling fossil expert will be speaking in Kanab about the remnants of ancient life that you can find just about anywhere in the American West.
“The whole premise is that fossils are everywhere, and when you see layered rock you see a page out of the earth’s history – it’s like driving around in an encyclopedia of the earth,” said Kirk Johnson, Ph.D., chief curator of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, who will give the talk “Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway: Fossils and Geology of the American West” at the Kanab City Library on Tuesday, January 11 at 7 p.m.
Based on Johnson’s 2007 book with artist Ray Troll, the talk will cover the fossils under our feet – from toothy critters like sabre-tooth tigers, T. rex and 37-million-year-old killer pigs called Archaeotherium to the fossil palms, plants and trees that served as dinosaur salads.
“It’s a science talk, but it’s the most fun science talk you’ve ever heard,” Johnson said, adding that the talk is sophisticated enough for adults, but will also entertain interested kids.
Johnson is on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument this month to continue the research on ancient volcanic ash that he and MIT’s Sam Bowring have been doing in the west for the past six years. The two scientists are refining methods to date the ash; those methods are increasing the precision of dating a fossil site so much that the error associated with a 90 million-year-old sample is less than 50,000 years.
Johnson’s first visit to the Monument in the 1980s and his first geology work in 1991 predated the Monument’s designation. His most recent visit was in September, to dig fossil leaves out of the Kaiparowits.
“The Monument’s cool because it’s so large, and so remote and so unexplored,” he said, adding that it’s a bonanza for geologists and paleontologists. “The fossil leaf sites are little magic worlds, because they’re full of things we’ve never seen before.”
Tuesday night’s talk is sponsored by Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (www.gsenm.org), a 501(c)(3) non-profit that supports science, education and conservation on the Monument. Refreshments will be served. The talk is free and open to the public.
Partners will also be showing off a few of the life-size dinosaur casts that make up the Partners/BLM traveling exhibits. The casts on display may include a juvenile Tyrannosaur, the multi-horned Diabloceratops eatoni, the seven-foot-long head of the newly discovered Utahceratops gettyi, or the massive skull of the incredibly toothy Deinosuchus, whose name means “terrible crocodile.”
“It is exciting that Dr. Johnson has scheduled time to talk to Kanab residents about the fossils that exist right out our back door, and how these local fossils relate to others found in the West,” said Partners President Noel Poe, adding that Partners was glad to be able to display Deinosuchus. This 35-foot-long alligator relative was one of the top predators of the sea during the Late Cretaceous. “School kids and their parents will get a charge out of seeing this skull,” Poe said.
Kirk Johnson, Ph.D., is vice president of Research and Collections and Chief Curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Johnson joined the museum in 1991 after earning his doctorate in geology and paleobotany from Yale University. He is best known for his research on fossil plants, which is widely accepted as some of the most convincing support for the theory that an asteroid impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Johnson has published many popular and scientific articles on topics ranging from fossil plants and modern rainforests to the ecology of whales and walruses. His research has taken him to Alaska’s Bering Sea, the Brazilian Amazon, the Canadian High Arctic, the rainforests of New Zealand, the Gobi Desert, India, Patagonia, and the American West. During his tenure at the museum, Johnson has been instrumental in the planning, content, and construction of the museum’s award-winning exhibition Prehistoric Journey. He also co-authored the book Prehistoric Journey: A History of Life on Earth.