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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Jennifer Watts
Did dinosaurs live in Tennessee? The answer is yes! Most people think of dinosaurs as living in western states like Montana and Wyoming. The truth is dinosaur bones have been found all over the world. And Tennessee is on the list.
“Monty” the Edmontosaurus statue, Frank H. McClung Museum
The first dinosaur bones found in Tennessee were actually discovered twice. One day in the University of Tennessee’s paleontology collection, five dinosaur fossils were found among the many artifacts. The records said they had been brought to Knoxville by paleontologist R. Lee Collins. He worked for the Tennessee Division of Geology. They did not know who found them or where. Now, we think they were probably found in the 1940s in West Tennessee. The fossils are now part of the collection of the Frank H. McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
In 1992, the Oxford Museum of Natural History identified the fossils as an Edmontosaurus (ed-MON-toe-SORE-us). Fossils from this kind of dinosaur were first found in Canada. It was named in 1917 and means “lizard of Edmonton” in Latin. It was named for the nearby city of Edmonton, Canada. Since then, more fossils have been found throughout North America.
Edmontosaurus was a type of Hadrosaur (HAY-dro-SORE-us) or duck-billed dinosaur. There are over 50 different types of Hadrosaurs. It is one of the few dinosaurs found on two continents: North America and Asia.
It lived during the Cretaceous period (145 million years ago-66 million years ago). At that time, Tennessee looked a lot different than it does today. The land looked more like Louisiana than Tennessee with swamps and marshes. The perfect habitat for our dinosaur.
Image by Emilee Dehmer
The five fossils found in Tennessee included three tail vertebrae (spine bone), part of the fibula (leg bone), and phalanx (foot bone). From the bones, scientists can tell our dinosaur was probably 26-29 feet in length. That is close to the length of a school bus! Some adults were as big as 40 feet in length, 12 feet tall, and weighed more than the biggest modern elephant.
Image Courtesy of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
Edmontosaurus walked on four legs but could stand on two legs. They were herbivores and ate pine needles and cones, twigs, fruits, and seeds. They had a broad, flat beak with no teeth in the front of their mouth. They had powerful jaws used for grinding their food. They had hundreds of teeth over their lifetime that constantly replaced lost ones. They looked like the molars we have at the back of our mouths.
Currently the Tennessee State Museum does not have any dinosaur fossils in our collection. We do have several other fossils from that time period. We also have a dinosaur egg from China. The egg was found in a nest in the Henan Providence in 2000. It was identified as possibly a Saurolophus (sore-OLL-uh-fuss) or “crested lizard”, another type of Hadrosaur.
Hadrosaur egg, TSM Collection
Finding dinosaur fossils in Tennessee is rare. Edmontosaurus is the only land dinosaur fossil found in Tennessee. We have also found other “sea-going” dinosaur fossils. They include the Mosasaur, Plesiosaur, and two different sharks. It is important to keep in mind that just because more fossils have not been found that does not mean other dinosaurs didn’t live in Tennessee. Maybe one day you will find a fossil of an animal that lived millions of years ago.
Paleontology - the study of animal and plant fossils.
Fossil - a print or the remains of an animal or plant from the past preserved in earth or rock. (For example: footprints or bones)
Geology - the science of Earth’s history, past life as recorded in rocks and its features like mountains.
Herbivore - an animal that eats only plants.
Habitat - the place where a plant or animal lives.
Where was the Edmontosaurus first found?
What two continents are their fossils found?
What kind of food did the Edmontosaurus eat?
What would you do if you found a dinosaur fossil in Tennessee?
Design your own dinosaur to live in Tennessee today. What would it eat? How big would it be? What would it look like? Draw a picture of your dinosaur and its habitat.
Watch National Geographic’s video “Dinosaur: 101” to learn more about dinosaurs. (3:47 minutes) -
Visit the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture in Knoxville to see a life-sized replica of a Hadrosaur named “Monty” as well as other fossils. For more information, visit https://mcclungmuseum.utk.edu/visit/
Tennessee State Social Studies Standard(s)
1.23 Use correct words and phrases related to chronology and time, including: past, present, and future.
3.03 Examine major physical features on globes and maps, including: Basin, Bay, Canal, Canyon, Delta, Desert, Gulf, Island, Isthmus, Mountain, Ocean, Peninsula, Plain, Plateau, River, Sea, Strait, Stream, and Valley.
6.01 Identify the meaning of time designations and abbreviations used by historians, including: BC / BCE, AD / CE, Circa (c. or ca), decades, centuries.
AH.04 Explain how archaeology and new technologies (e.g., 3D imaging and dating tools) inform our understanding of the past.
Tennessee Science Standard(s)
4.LS4: Biological Change: Unity and Diversity
1) Obtain information about what a fossil is and ways a fossil can provide information about the past.
5.LS4: Biological Change: Unity and Diversity
1) Analyze and interpret data from fossils to describe types of organisms and their environments that existed long ago. Compare similarities and differences of those to living organisms and their environments. Recognize that most kinds of animals (and plants) that once lived on Earth are now extinct.
8.LS4: Biological Change: Unity and Diversity
1) Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change in life forms throughout Earth’s history.
Jennifer Watts is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.