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Tire-Sized Fossil Discovered Last Week Was Big But 1/3rd The Size Of Giant Big Horn County Fossil

in Wyoming Fossil

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Rockhounding was a way of life for Carol Cheatham and her five siblings as they grew up in the Big Horn Basin in the 1950s and 1960s.

Their childhood pastime has been commemorated forever in textbooks and museums – because their father, Ray Cheatham, was the man who discovered what was at the time the largest ammonite fossil ever found in North America.

“(There’s a) college Geology textbook in which my picture appeared with the ammonite,” Cheatham told Cowboy State Daily. “It was actually used in classes taken at (Brigham Young University) by (brother) Bob and my older sister, Barbara.”

The Parpuzosia bradyi was found in Big Horn County by Raymond Cheatham in the early 1960s, and excavated piece-by-piece by the Greybull Rock Club. The giant fossil, at 55 inches high, was taller than 5-year-old Carol was at the time the artifact was found. 

“The ammonite was found in what’s called the Cody shale formation,” said Carol’s brother Bob, who pursued a geology degree at BYU because of the love for rocks instilled in him by his parents. “It’s Cretaceous in age, it’s (about) 100 million years old.”

Ammonite fossils have a distinctive coil shape. Between 66 million and 450 million years ago, they were the shells that protected ocean-dwelling squids. 

Ammonites are not uncommon in Wyoming. Earlier in May, amateur rockhounds scouting in Powder River in Natrona County found a fossilized ammonite 19 inches across and 16 inches high.

Carol said the huge artifact her family found was possibly the most impressive find that she, her parents and her siblings were ever a part of collecting – but then again, for the Cheatham family in the 1950s and 1960s, rockhounding was a part of their life.

“It was an adventure every weekend going looking for fossils, and going up to the mountains and learning about the land we were living on,” she said. “I thought it was a very important way to grow up.” 

Cheatham said the entire family would go on to become members of the Greybull Rock Club, which her parents helped found.

“The Greybull Rock Club (would) five times a year go out on field trips and bring things in,” said Bob. “And they also went to see Indian petroglyphs and things like that.” 

Bob and Carol recalled fondly how their father, who was a surveyor for the company which operated the bentonite plant in Greybull, learned about geology while on the job.

“His job was to survey the plot for the open pit mines, where they withdraw the bentonite,” said Bob. “So the geologist and him became very close friends. And they would survey their plot, then they would go out and hunt for other areas where bentonite might be – but this geologist taught dad about different geological formations, and he knew what was there as far as fossils or other things.”

According to Carol, her father was out surveying when he made the monumental discovery.

“He was on the job when he found it,” she said. “And he actually couldn’t do anything about it. He knew where it was, and then he went back to town and told another person interested in geology about it, and that person went out and retrieved it.”

Carol said the huge ammonite was taken out of the ground in pieces, and the rock club put the fossil together in the display case it currently rests in at the Greybull museum.

“Dad built the frame that goes around it,” Bob added. “It took them a while to get that ammonite from where it was, it might have taken a year.”

Carol noted that in part because of their parents’ love for science, every one of the Cheatham siblings went on to get college degrees, two of them earning their PhD’s. Carol herself is a developmental cognitive neuroscientist on the faculty at the psychology and neuroscience department at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

“Mom and dad only had high school educations,” Carol said. “But all six of us went to college. I think their love of science, and all things education and all things books – we had a house full of books.” 

The Cheatham family’s rockhounding legacy can still be found at the Greybull Museum, proudly displayed as an example of the rich fossil record that lies under the sands of the Big Horn Basin.

“Wyoming is a great place to study geology,” said Bob. “In fact, the Big Horn basin is so great that (colleges bring students) into the area to study the geology. And it’s because, in the Big Horn basin, you can actually see the geology.”

“With every heavy rain, more fossils wash up,” Carol pointed out.

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Gigantic Tire-Sized Fossil Found In Natrona County

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Amateur rockhounds discovered a colossal fossil while scouting around rural Natrona County this weekend.

Joe Ritz and three of his friends, all members of the Natrona County Rockhounds club in Casper, were rock hunting Sunday afternoon near Powder River, about an hour from Casper, when Ritz said something caught his eye.

“We were out looking for ammonites,” Ritz told Cowboy State Daily, referencing to a specific fossil, shaped like a coil, that between 450 and 66 million years ago were the shells that contained ocean-dwelling squids. 

“We went to a new area a guy was showing me, north of Powder River in that Natchez Dome area,” Ritz said. “And we were just out there looking, and I saw a piece of something that didn’t look quite right – because, I mean, the area is littered with fragments of them.”

Ritz said that as he started clearing the dirt from the object, he started seeing the distinctive ridges of the ammonite form.

“And then it looked like it was a whole piece,” he said, “and then we pried out the center of the rock. And that’s when we saw the inside coils and realized it was a whole ammonite, not just parts of one.”

But it wasn’t just any ammonite, which have been found in many sizes around the world – this fossil measured 19 inches across by 16 inches high. 

“I was with three other people when I found it,” Ritz said. “And we each have, like, a complete one, but they may be the size of your hand. I’ve never seen anything this large.”

“Very Rare”

The ammonite that Ritz found with his friends is an unusually large specimen, according to Dr. Laura Vietti, the geological museum and collections manager at the University of Wyoming.

“It’s very rare to find ammonites that large,” Dr. Vietti told Cowboy State Daily. “We have found larger in the state of Wyoming, but that’s definitely on the larger side, especially intact.”

Wyoming is a treasure trove for fossil hunters, according to noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich, whose family owns a commercial fossil quarry near Kemmerer in southwestern Wyoming.

“Wyoming, in scientific circles, is certainly ground zero, and has been for 100-plus years for fossil discoveries,” Ulrich said. 

“Wyoming has the best fossil record for vertebrates – animals that have a backbone,” said Dr. Vietti. “We also have a really rich invertebrate record, which includes these ammonites, which had tentacles, kind of like a squid stuck in a shelled body. And then on top of it all, we have a really deep record, meaning that we have fossils from almost every time period that there was life on Earth.”

Likely To Donate

In Ulrich’s opinion, Ritz’ discovery this weekend was a great find.

“That is an outstanding specimen,” Ulrich said, after viewing the photo. “Very well preserved, very beautiful, and certainly very large.”

What will Ritz do with the massive fossil that he is currently hauling around in the back seat of his vehicle?

“I’m going to take it to the rock club tonight and see if it needs some maintenance, or whatever it needs done to it, and then I don’t know,” he said. “I might donate it to the Tate (Geological Museum in Casper).” 

Whatever becomes of the fossil, Ritz said it’s important to share the find with others.

“I want people to see it,” he said. “That’s the cool thing about it – it was found here in the state, in Natrona County. I want people to be able to witness it. Maybe I’ll let the rock club display it and take it on shows or something like that. Like, I don’t need it in my house.”

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Japanese Researchers Discover Giant Crocodile Dinosaur Fossil Near Laramie

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A group of Japanese researchers has discovered a fossil near Laramie of a 14-foot dinosaur considered to be the “uncle” of modern crocodiles, according to a recently published research study.

A team of researchers from Hokkaido University have identified a new species belonging to the crocodile-like “goniopholidid” family. The full findings of the study were published in the journal Royal Society Open Science

The fossil of ‘Amphicotyleus milesi” was unearthed in Albany County’s East Camarasaurus Quarry, named after the type of dinosaur remains most often found at the site.

According to the paleontologists, in life the 14-foot long A. milesi would have weighed in at nearly one-half ton and sported a mouth packed with 30 2-inch-long, razor-sharp teeth. The “crocodile” would have lived during the late Jurassic period, around 200 million years ago.

Noted Wyoming outdoorsman Paul Ulrich, whose family owns Ulrich’s Fossil Gallery in Kemmerer, was impressed with the massive size of the crocodile fossil.

“Wyoming has one of the richest deposits of fossils in the world,” he said. “This particular fossil was found in the Morrison formation, which is actually somewhat older than the formation we excavate. This shows crocodiles have been in Wyoming, literally, from the Jurassic period for tens of millions of years.”

Wyoming’s fossil deposits are so rich, Ulrich believes some will remain undiscovered forever.

According to paper author and paleontologist Junki Yoshida, A. milesi had a unique breathing system that it used for diving, which Ulrich found fascinating.

“That evolution allowed crocodiles to breathe underwater for up to an hour now,” he said.

Ulrich said he considers himself a conservationist but isn’t saddened that the gigantic crocodile-like creature became extinct.

“Let’s face it, this is not something you’d want to run into while you’re out fly-fishing in Wyoming,” Ulrich said. “It could really ruin your afternoon.”

That being said, Wyoming didn’t look much like Wyoming 200 million years ago. Scientists say the badlands of Wyoming looked more like the Serengeti of Africa back in the Late Jurassic period.

Modern crocodiles live in tropical areas in Asia, the Americas, Africa and Australia.

The researchers believe that A. milesi would have been an opportunistic predator, eating everything from small fish, frogs, lizards and turtles to even herbivorous dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

“Can you imagine that monster in a ring with a grizzly,” Ulrich said. “Pay-per-view gold.”

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