A 200-million-year-old prehistoric fish fossil was recently discovered at Zion National Park, in Southern Utah, by officials from the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site. This remarkable finding has emerged as a significant addition to the understanding of ancient fish species and the environmental conditions they lived in.
Paleontologists, including Andrew Milner, curator of the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site, and Utah Paleontologist Jim Kirkland, are working together to formally describe this species of coelacanth. This ancient fish skeleton provides evidence of a freshwater lake that once existed in the area that is now Zion National Park. Coelacanths belong to an ancient group of lobe-finned fish that are more closely related to lungfish and tetrapods, such as reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals.
The 200 Million-Year-Old Fossil
The fossil, which is considered the most significant body fossil discovered at Zion National Park, is related to the modern coelacanth that can be found in the Indian Ocean. The newly unearthed fossil features bones dating back around 200 million years and displays similar fin arrangements to their present-day counterparts. The discovery is notable as it reveals a connection between the ecosystems of Zion National Park and the Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm in St. George.
How Scientists Unearthed the Fossil
The Whitmore Point Member of the Moenave Formation in Zion National Park has proven to be suitable for preserving body fossils like the ancient coelacanth. This indicates that more body fossils could potentially be found in the park’s rock formations. To further understand these findings, paleontologists use detailed 3D images of significant fossil sites throughout Zion. Photogrammetry, a computer modeling method, creates 3D digital models of objects from field photographs and aids in monitoring track-sites and measuring erosion over time.
The funding for this technology was made possible through the nonprofit Zion Forever Project. Zachary Almaguer, director of marketing and communications for the nonprofit, explains that the digital imaging process helps to preserve the fossils and share the information without requiring the removal of the fossil from its rock layers. This method enables experts to study both the paleontology and geology aspects, as well as to understand the timelines and history of these significant fossil sites.