N.C. Paleontologists Discover Rare Dinosaur Eggs

A team from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences discovered a clutch of football-sized dinosaur eggs in Utah .

Dinosaur eggs found in Utah unveiled at the Museum of Natural Sciences
March 30, 2018

What Utah looked like 97 million years ago, and who lived there

What Americans know today as Utah—forests, snow-covered mountains, and a badland mix of deserts and canyons—was a very different place during the late Cretaceous period, 97 million years ago. The geologic and fossil record shows half of the state was covered by an inland sea.

And one day, on a delta along the edge of that sea, a mother dinosaur from a species called oviraptorosaur laid her eggs in a nest. The feathered, bird-like dinosaur resembles a 15-foot tall cross between a chicken and a turkey. The dinosaur sported a half-moon shaped crest on its head, a toothless beak, long feathers on the arms and a broad tail-feather fan. The nest had at least 10 eggs.

N.C. Paleontologist Stumbles Upon 10 eggs

Fast forward to summer, 2016. After a long day of digging for fossils, a team from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences was packing. It was 120 degrees. Camp was three miles away from the cliffs and canyon the team was working in. Terry Gates, of North Carolina State University’s Department of Biological Sciences noticed the small bumps in the soil as the team was leaving.

To the untrained eye, it would have been just another piece of rock.

“I was really tired and wanted to leave, but that little voice in my head said after 20 years of patience and determination this could be my lucky day,” Gates said, “So I went back to look.”

The few minutes it took to stop and examine the rocks turned into a huge scientific discovery. It’s huge, but not just because oviraptorosaurs are big. It’s the first time a clutch of oviraptorsaur eggs has been found North America.

“This area was rich with all types of dinosaurs back then,” says Lindsay Zanno, Ph.D. and head of paleontolgy at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Zanno led the fossil hunting expedition. “We’ve discovered and recovered the fossils of five new species of dinosaurs in this area but we never expected to find this.

The Eggs Give Clues to How Dinosaurs Lived

Recovering the intact nest of a dinosaur is exciting and rare. It also gives us a glimpse into how the creatures lived. The eggs were clustered together. Fossilized plant material was found around the eggs. Researchers returned one year later, in summer, 2017, to uncover the nest.

In fall of 2017, the nest was packed into a protective cast of plaster. It weighed 1,400 pounds so a helicopter was used to lift it out of the canyon. The cast was brought to the paleontology lab at the museum. Two football-sized eggs have been uncovered and at least eight more are still encased in rock. No embryotic material has been found but researchers will continue working on the nest in the museum lab. Museum visitors can watch the work behind the glass walls of the Paleontology Research Lab.

—Frank Graff 

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci Tech Now North Carolina, a weekly science series that airs Tuesdays on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!