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Phytosaur From Chinle Formation of Arizona

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Near the Petrified Forest in east central Arizona are additional deposits that our Museum staff have been able to search for Triassic fossils. The deposit was formed by a river flowing west from what is now Texas. It carried sand, silt and downed conifer trees from upstream and formed a habitat somewhat like the Florida Everglades. In the display case in the west foyer is the large skull of a Phytosaur and some of the other animals from the swampy habitat. Initially it looks like a crocodile, but on closer examination there is a significant difference. Crocodiles have nostrils near the tip of the snout, but phytosaurs had their nostrils near the top of their skull, almost between their eyes.

Late in the afternoon of the last day of field work we were headed to the truck to return back to Sierra College. On the way back the skull was found by Dick Hilton. Excavation started on the exposed snout. Soon both ends of the 3 feet long skull had been located. Because the skull of crocodilians is typically 1/6 to 1/7 their total length, our animal was probably somewhere between 18 and 21 feet long.

Shortly before dusk the crew had returned from the supply truck a mile or two away with plaster and burlap, water and a wheeled stretcher. The jacket was soon applied to the skull and was drying in the early evening. By nine pm the skull was loaded on the stretcher and the trip back to the truck begun. The full moon helped the crew find a way for the stretcher through the vegetation. It was 10 pm when we arrived at the vehicles. It was too late to do anything but set up camp there and get some sleep.

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