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A Note from Merle Graffam

My accidental career as a Paleontoligst began with the discovery of several Plesiosaurs in the Tropic Shale deposits north and east of Big Water Utah. About 93 million years ago a seaway ran between Mexico and the Arctic Ocean averaging about 1000 miles wide, from western Utah to Minnesota. Though shallow, from 400 to 600 feet deep, the shale layers deposited over a 20 million year period in the Late Cretaceous are about 750 feet thick in the area, covered with oyster and clam shells, ammonites, sharks teeth, and the bones of fish, turtles and Plesiosaurs.

Plesiosaurs are marine reptiles, from about 15 to 25 feet long with 3 inch teeth and four three-foot long flippers. These competed with the great sharks for top predators of the ancient oceans. Over a ten year period David Rankin, a local young man, and I, discovered twelve of these giant creatures in the Tropic Shale layers and each was excavated by the Museum of Northern Arizona at Flagstaff under the able direction of Dr. David D. Gillette and Dr. Barry Albright.




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