A group from North Dakota may have just discovered a new species of dinosaur.
And they found a lot of bones – including some that may lead to the discovery of at least one new dinosaur species, Fowler told GoMN.
Fowler's team was digging near Rudyard, Montana, in an area they'd scoped out a few years ago, when they found a few armor plates and rib bones.
When they went back this summer, they were hoping to find more – and they did.
Fowler says they discovered more of the skeleton preserved in the rocks, including an entire skull that was "intact and in excellent condition."
This skeleton likely belongs to a new species of nodosaur (an armored dinosaur) that lived 79 million years ago, Fowler says.
The new nodosaur is probably an ancestor of the Edmontonia or Panoplosaurus, "but that's just an early hypothesis," Fowler explained, noting the Edmontonia and Panoplosaurus were both discovered in rocks that are 2-3 million years younger than the rock Fowler discovered his skeleton in.
It may be the oldest nodosaur ever discovered
Finding the skull of the skeleton is pretty significant.
Skulls show the most evolutionary change, so it's one of the best ways for scientists to determine if a fossil is a different species than ones previously discovered, Fowler said.
And even though he hasn't gotten a really good look at it yet, Fowler is pretty sure his team's discovery is the first of its kind.
That's because nobody's written about a nodosaur species that dates back 79 million years like this one. The oldest known nodosaur species have been found in rock that's 76 million years old.
So this skeleton "should be the oldest known one of its kind," Fowler said. That's big for scientists because it'll help tell them understand how nodosaurs evolved.
Here are some photos of some of the things Fowler and his team discovered. You can see more here.
"It's going to be a cool new piece of the puzzle," Fowler said, noting dinosaur species evolve noticeably over just a few hundred thousand years, so he thinks their specimen will be "subtly different" from the nodosaurs found in rock dating back 76 million years.
Fowler said in the rock where they found the skull, they also discovered fragments from other dinosaurs that have never been described before.
These discoveries could be the link between older and younger species of this new nodosaur, but Fowler said he may be getting ahead of himself.
To prove that a species is new, he and his team will unpack the fossils, compare them to all the other fossils that have been discovered, and write a paper on the differences.
And even if it turns out these fossils aren't a new species, Fowler said it's a great find and will be important for future research.
Public presentation planned
Fowler plans to present his findings from his teams fieldwork at a public presentation at the Dickinson Museum Center in the coming weeks.
An exact date isn't set yet, but Fowler said it'll probably be in late September or mid-October. Keep an eye on the museum's Facebook page and website for information.