By John Balch
* Arkansas lawmakers voted unanimously Wednesday to advance a bill to make the Arkansaurus fridayi dinosaur the state’s official dinosaur.
The bill now moves to the full House for consideration. *
The area’s rich prehistoric history could be recognized in a big way if a young man from Fayetteville gets his wish.
A proposal to name Arkansaurus fridayi as the state’s official dinosaur is currently being considered during the 91st General Assembly. The right hind foot bones of the dinosaur were discovered in 1972 by Joe B. Friday of Lockesburg on his Sevier County land. The bipedal beast, which likely stood 15 feet or more tall, currently represents the “only dinosaur bones found in Arkansas that have been brought to the attention of the scientific community,” according to Arkansas Geological Survey (AGS).
The dinosaur has been the long obsession of Mason Oury, a 17-year-old student at Fayetteville High School who has lobbied since 2013 to get have Arkansaurus fridayi declared the official dinosaur of Arkansas. Oury recently told the Fayetteville Flyer he first learned of the dinosaur when he was seven or eight years old and quickly became obsessed with paleontology.
“Out of all the dinosaurs that lived in Arkansas 120 millions years ago, Arkansaurus is the only dinosaur found only here,” Oury told the Fayetteville publication. He also noted that only eight other states have official state dinosaurs.
A resolution to designate the local dinosaur is being sponsored by Rep. Greg Leding of Fayetteville and has the backing of local legislator, Rep. DeAnn Vaught of Horatio, and is being carried in the Senate by Sen. Larry Teague, who resides in the city of Nashville, home to the annual DinoFest at the city park. Teague said he expects the proposal to be considered in a few days and with passage likely.
The part of Southwest Arkansas where the foot bones were discovered lies within a region known as Lower Cretaceous Trinity Group. Just up the road near Nashville in Howard County is a documented sauropod trackway, which is described as possibly the “largest dinosaur trackway in the world.” The suspected migration path is embedded in limestone and was discovered in 1983 during gypsum mining at plant owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company.
The trackway contained between 5,000 and 10,000 assorted tracks, many left by a large four-legged species. A cast of some of the tracks was once display outside the Howard County Courthouse but, due to deterioration concerns, has since been put in storage. A small section of a track cast is currently on display at the Nashville City Park.
“These dinosaurs were walking near the shoreline of the ancient Gulf of Mexico, approximately 100 million years ago, when it extended across southern Arkansas,” according to the AGS.
In 2011, another quality trackway was found nearby and covers an area of about two football fields and preserved fossilized tracks of several species, possibly including the two-legged predator and maybe the most well known of all the dinosaurs, T-Rex, as well as a three-toed predator called Acrocanthosaurus atokensis.
About 25 miles over the Arkansas state line in McCurtain County near Idabel, Okla., a complete Acrocanthosaurus skeleton was recovered. The carnivorous beast would have measured about 40 feet long, 15 feet tall and weighed in at seven tons. The skeleton was excavated in an amateur effort that began in 1983 and concluded in 1986.
A cast of the fossil skeleton is currently on display in the Museum of the red River in Idabel. Acrocanthosaurus was officially designated Oklahoma’s state dinosaur in 2005.
“Through tracks, we can learn all sorts of things about dinosaur biomechanics and behavior,” said Brian Platt, a researcher with the University of Kansas who helped document the 2011 Howard County trackway find. “Dinosaur bones can be dragged away by animals or swept out to sea. But we know that about 120 million years ago, dinosaurs walked right through here.”