Natural History Museum of Utah

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Paleontology

The Museum's Paleontology Collections comprise nearly 30,000 specimens, including over 20,000 vertebrate, 5,000 paleobotanical, and 2,000 invertebrate fossils.

Fun Facts

Our collections strength is in the Intermountain West, particularly Utah

We have world-class vertebrate fossil collections from the Late Cretaceous of southern Utah (Kaiparowits, Wahweap, and Straight Cliffs formations) and the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation of central Utah, including the largest collection anywhere, from the world-famous Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry. Other important vertebrate collections include the Pleistocene of Utah, early collections from the Pliocene Hagerman Fossil Horse Quarry, the Oligocene of the southern unit of Badlands National Park in South Dakota, and the Eocene of the Uinta Basin.

Our paleobotanical holdings include large collections from the Early Eocene Green River Formation of Utah and Wyoming, and an excellent collection of Triassic specimens from the Colorado Plateau collected by world-renowned paleobotanist Dr. Sid Ash.

New Discovery

The Museum’s paleontologists were part of a team that unearthed a remarkable new species of horned dinosaur in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, southern Utah. The newly discovered species, Nasutoceratops titusi, was a huge plant-eater that inhabited Laramidia, a landmass formed when a shallow sea flooded the central region of North America, isolating western and eastern portions for millions of years during the Late Cretaceous Period.

The study which was published in the British scientific journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, was led by Scott Sampson, when he was the Museum’s Chief Curator.  Other paleontologists involved in the discovery include Eric Lund (Ohio University; previously a University of Utah graduate student), Mark Loewen (Natural History Museum of Utah and Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah), Andrew Farke (Raymond Alf Museum), and Katherine Clayton (Natural History Museum of Utah).

Nasutoceratops titusi belongs to the same family as the famous TriceratopsHorned dinosaurs, or “ceratopsids,” were a group of big-bodied, four-footed herbivores that lived during the Late Cretaceous Period. As epitomized by Triceratops, most members of this group have huge skulls bearing a single horn over the nose, one horn over each eye, and an elongate, bony frill at the rear. 

The newly discovered species, Nasutoceratops titusi, possesses several unique features, including an oversized nose relative to other members of the family, and exceptionally long, curving, forward-oriented horns over the eyes. The bony frill, rather than possessing elaborate ornamentations such as hooks or spikes, is relatively unadorned, with a simple, scalloped margin. Nasutoceratops translates as “big-nose horned face,” and the second part of the name honors Alan Titus, Monument Paleontologist at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, for his years of research collaboration.

A cast of the skull is on display in the Museum’s Past Worlds gallery in the Ceratopsian Wall, a remarkable and often-photographed exhibit! A second cast is on display in the "New Discoveries" platform in the same gallery through September 2013.

Take a Look at the Top Dinosaurs of NHMU


Staff & Research Projects

The current staff of NHMU Paleontology includes Curator Dr. Randall Irmis. Over the past ten years, our research has focused heavily on the Mesozoic vertebrate paleontology of Utah. Current field-based major research projects include:

  • Late Cretaceous of southern Utah in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  • Late Triassic of southeastern and northeastern Utah
  • Late Triassic of Ghost Ranch, northern New Mexico
  • Early Permian of southeastern Utah

This research has resulted in major discoveries of new species of dinosaurs and other vertebrate animals from the time of dinosaurs. The goal of our fieldwork is to understand how climate and sea level have driven the evolution and biogeography of non-marine vertebrate animals during the Triassic and Cretaceous. To this end, we collaborate with a large group of geologists, geochronologists, geochemists, paleobotanists, and other paleontologists both at the University of Utah and other institutions.

Volunteer To Be a Part of the NHMU Paleontology Team!

Our research team includes staff, students, and you! The exciting discoveries made by NHMU Paleontology would not be possible without the vital teamwork of our dedicated group of volunteers, who put in over 15,000 person-hours a year. You too can become a part of this amazing team and work with fossils that are millions of years old. Start by checking out our current volunteer opportunities available in these areas: fieldwork, fossil preparation, and collections.