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Minnesota paleontology and geology, National Park Service paleontology, the Mesozoic, and occasional distractions
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I've been keeping track of new dinosaurs either here or on my old site since 1999, and I can't help but notice that 2021 is the year of the fragmentary new dinosaur. Is this a reflection of COVID restrictions at museums and so forth, i.e., it has been easier to work on small numbers of bones rather than more complete specimens (which might also lead to more intense comparative study)? Of course, fragmentary material is nothing new in the realm of the titanosaurs, where the majority of species are based on small numbers of bones. (2021 has been pretty good for titanosaurs.) Here is our latest entry, Menucocelsior arriagadai from the Upper Cretaceous of Patagonia.
Genus and Species: Menucocelsior arriagadai. "Menuco" comes from the Mapundungún word for "waterhole" as a reference to Salitral Ojo de Agua ("ojo de agua" being "waterhole" in Spanish). "Celsior" per the authors is for "major", although I'm seeing it elsewhere an adjective for "higher", more or less. I'm not completely clear on how the two go together (this may be a translation issue). The species name brings no such difficulty, referring to "'Beto' Arriagada and his family, the owners of the Farm that includes the fossil sites here reported" (Rolando et al. 2021).
Citation: Rolando, M. A., J. A. Garcia Marsà, F. L. Agnolín, M. J. Motta, S.
Rozadilla, and F. E. Novas. 2021. The sauropod record of Salitral Ojo del
Agua: An Upper Cretaceous (Allen Formation) fossiliferous locality from
northern Patagonia, Argentina. Cretaceous Research 105029. doi:
Stratigraphy and Geography: The holotype and only known specimen comes from an Allen Formation site called Cerro Matadero on the Arriagada Farm in Río Negro Province, Argentina. The area is known as Salitral Ojo de Agua (Rolando et al. 2021). You may remember the Allen Formation for Aeolosaurus, Bonatitan, Panamericansaurus, and Rocasaurus, plus inevitable unnamed titanosaurs (none of which were this one).
Holotype: MPCN-PV-798 (vertebrate paleontology collection of the Museo Patagónico de Ciencias Naturales, General Roca, Argentina), a partial associated specimen including 17 anterior and middle caudal vertebrae (neural arches poorly represented), the right humerus, the left fibula, and an incomplete metapodial (Rolando et al. 2021).
Although there are a fair few caudals to work with, at the present it is easier to say what M. arriagadai isn't than what it is. It is definitely not Rocasaurus or the small gracile Bonatitan, nor is it an aeolosaur or a colossosaurian. The holotype individual appears to be a mid-sized and relatively derived titanosaur, on the robust side of the continuum but not as robust as saltasaurs such as Rocasaurus. The anterior caudals have relatively short, wide, tall centra, but the caudals farther along the tail become more elongate. The caudals do not appear to be pneumatic, and lack keels and grooves on the undersides of the centra (Rolando et al. 2021). For now, M. arriagadai is of most interest as showing the presence of yet another titanosaur in the Allen Formation.
But that is not where the paper ends, not at all. M. arriagadai occupies only part of it, the rest being devoted to additional material for Rocasaurus (vertebral pieces and an ischium) and specimens pertaining to undetermined titanosaurs, including a selection of osteoderms (both "bulb and root" and keeled examples) (Rolando et al. 2021). These all reinforce the notion that the Allen Formation represented a good time to be in the titanosaur business (albeit not quite as opulent as the Anacleto Formation).
Rolando, M. A., J. A. Garcia Marsà, F. L. Agnolín, M. J. Motta, S.
Rozadilla, and F. E. Novas. 2021. The sauropod record of Salitral Ojo del
Agua: An Upper Cretaceous (Allen Formation) fossiliferous locality from
northern Patagonia, Argentina. Cretaceous Research 105029. doi:
Sometimes you look at a slab, and you notice one special thing about it.
"That's a nice
Isotelus hypostome." "Neat
strophs." "Look at that
Phycodes!" In this case, it's "Gee, that's a lot of bryozoans!"
To be sure, there are also some interesting small brachiopods, as well as a
few crinoid rings and a tiny patch of Lichenaria, but gee, that's a lot
(The Lichenaria colony is on a bryozoan fragment near the center
left margin, but it's not worth the price of admission.)
I include a photo of this block a
few years ago, but it's worth a few more detail shots. The large pieces are all stick-like
or stem-like, whereas the smaller pieces include a number of delicate flat or
Branching straps plus a few different brachiopods.
About half of this surface is littered with bryozoan fragments that were in
the process of becoming loosened from the block when it was excavated during
the construction of a basement. Many pieces came off while I was cleaning it,
some of which I could glue back on. (Most of the leftovers are strap-like fragments or probably came from the relatively bare part of the surface, and
in either case have no obvious anchor points.) Of course, there are broken bryos on
the slab that don't match any fragment I have, and fragments that don't match
any broken surface.
Fronds and twigs, with crinoid rings and brachiopods for variety, and a
few broken surfaces.
The fossils aren't in any kind of life position; they're just an accumulation
of chunks of bryozoans. Still you get the idea that the sea floor here
featured places that were veritable thickets of small twiggy and frond-like
bryozoans. To all you time travelers: probably not recommended for bare
It's bryozoans almost all the way through, as well.
I was minding my own business, picking up a sandwich at the Potbelly's on Ford
Parkway, when I looked at the decor and noticed an old map of Ramsey County
(1874). Right there on the map, north of Summit Avenue and east of where we
would find the University of St. Thomas today, is "Wm.
Finn". William Finn. Finn of Finn's Glen.
Forgive the flare. It was a dramatic moment.
Bingo. Meaning what, exactly? (Unfortunately, it doesn't identify the glen.) Years ago I wrote about Finn's Glen in conjunction with Shadow Falls. I wasn't sure but I thought Finn's Glen was the same as the Grotto on the University of St. Thomas campus, south of Shadow Falls. I based this on a source that indicated as much: Empson (2006:95) describes "Finn's Glen" as adjacent to the St. Paul Seminary, south of
Summit Avenue, and a place of meditation. As a University of St. Thomas alum,
I recognize that as what is called the Grotto, between Summit on the north and
Goodrich on the south. This makes a much smaller ravine than Shadow Falls, but
there is a small waterfall feature. Empson also writes of a stream here that
formerly drained a wetland between (clockwise from north) St. Clair, Snelling,
Randolph, and Fairview. We can see this in Winchell's "Falls of St. Anthony"
map (1877). But...
Finn's Glen is clearly marked...
...Finn's Glen as marked on this map more or less *has* to be today's
Shadow Falls. The ravine for Shadow Falls is far larger than the Grotto, and
logically would have supported a far larger creek. Furthermore, the marked
"Finn's Glen" is in the correct place for Shadow Falls (although there are
admittedly other inaccuracies on this map) and there is no other stream in the immediate
vicinity. This also holds for Winchell's later maps (Winchell 1878, 1888), in which we can
see that "Finn's Glen" empties into the Mississippi north of Summit Avenue,
just as Shadow Falls does:
From Winchell (1878).
From Winchell (1888).
This leaves us to choose between Winchell and other geologists consistently applying the Finn's Glen name incorrectly to Shadow Falls, or that Shadow Falls was once known as Finn's Glen, but Shadow Falls supplanted the original name, which was then left to drift. Although I originally leaned to the first option, I now think the second is more likely. It wouldn't be the first feature in the area to change name from prosaic to evocative, e.g., Brown's Falls becoming Minnehaha Falls. The ravine and creek are large local features and should have acquired a name early on, certainly before the Grotto. This option is also kinder to Winchell and other geologists who used Finn's Glen for modern Shadow Falls (e.g., Sardeson and Ulrich). Does it fit with the timeline?
Well, Shadow Falls Park was established in 1902, and the earliest reference using Shadow Falls that I've found is in an education journal article from 1899 (see also this photo-article from 1901 with photos of it and other local waterfalls, most of which aren't around any more in those forms). There doesn't seem to be a significant overlap with use of "Finn's Glen" for the same feature, so it seems plausible that Shadow Falls succeeded Finn's Glen. Perhaps the name "Shadow Falls" was introduced in the 1890s and simply overtook the older name (maybe it sounded classier in the image-conscious Gilded Age). Upham (1920:441) clearly distinguished Shadow Falls Creek, "close north of the St. Paul
Seminary," from Finn's Glen "about a mile farther south". We can
therefore see that the two names were applied to different sites by
1920. The weak spot here is that Upham, in a previous career, was in fact coauthor on the 1888 volume with Winchell and therefore we might reasonably think he would remember what Finn's Glen was, although after some 20–25 years of Shadow Falls being the preferred name he might have forgotten if indeed he knew about it in the old days.
Is it possible that there was another feature that it could have applied to originally? Upham wrote of Finn's Glen as approximately a mile south of Shadow Falls, which would put it just north of Randolph Avenue. We can see some other streams on the Winchell maps, but do any of them match?
Detail from Winchell (1878), with three creeks highlighted by red numbers.
#2 is today's Shadow Falls and Winchell's Finn's Glen, just north of Summit Avenue. #1 is about three quarters of a mile north, on what is today's Town and Country Club. (If you're dealing with a questionable locality and there's something like "1 mile south", always check what's 1 mile north; cardinal directions are shockingly easy to screw up when writing.) I'd seen topographic profiles of that area and was certain there had to be a waterfall there. Well, there was, but it's been gone a long time. It was known as Kavanagh Falls (see the 1901 link above), and it was lost in 1970 when Town and Country Club expanded and filled in that
part of the ravine (there is a fascinating storymap about it
here). (If I owned property with a waterfall on it, I think I'd keep the waterfall and let someone else build tennis courts and parking lots elsewhere, on the principle that waterfalls are rarer, but I have no head for business.)
#3 is more of a mystery. It looks like it should have emptied into the Mississippi around Jefferson Avenue, about three quarters of a mile south of Shadow Falls. This is not a mile, but it's not unconscionably off, either. This one is even harder to account for than Kavanagh Falls. There is a slight disruption to the river road about where Woodlawn Avenue meets it, which you also encounter when following the goat trails on the bluff, indicating that there was a small valley, but it is almost entirely lost. Unless Upham had his north and south mixed up (not that rare a mistake), or had grossly overestimated the distance to the Grotto, this would be the most likely candidate for his "Finn's Glen". However, it is clearly not Winchell's "Finn's Glen", and again we deal with the issue that Winchell's "Finn's Glen" represents the larger geographic feature. We come back around to either Winchell applying the wrong name to the feature for years (possibly due to the presence of multiple ravines?), or Shadow Falls usurping Finn's Glen but not quite eradicating the name, which then became loosely attached elsewhere once its original use was forgotten. (Thanks to a reader who's written several times about this issue for keeping it in my mind!)
Empson, D. L. 2006. The street where you live: a guide to the place names of
St. Paul. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Winchell, N. H. 1877. The geology of Hennepin County. Minnesota Geological
Survey, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Annual Report 5:131–201.
Winchell, N. H. 1878. The geology of Ramsey County. Minnesota Geological
Survey, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Annual Report 6:66–92.
Winchell, N. H. 1888. The geology of Ramsey County. Pages 345–374 in N. H. Winchell and W. Upham. The geology of Minnesota. Minnesota Geological and Natural History Survey, Final Report 2. Johnson, Smith & Harrison, state printers, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
As far as I'm concerned, 2021 has been relatively quiet for new dinosaurs (great year for ophthalmosaurid ichthyosaurs, though; I might even learn to spell "ophthalmosaurid" correctly the first time through). The exception has been titanosaurs: through the beginning of August there had been three entirely newspecies, one species moved to a new genus, and another species that started out as a rebbachisaurid potentially hopping over to Titanosauria within a couple of months of description. Hamititan xinjiangensis makes another new addition. It was published this week (Wang et al. 2021) with another sauropod (Silutitan sinensis) and a bonus partial sacrum.
Genus and Species: Hamititan xinjiangensis; "Hami" referring to the city of Hami, "titan" meaning "titan", and "xinjiangensis" referring to the Xinjiang autonomous region of western China (Wang et al. 2021). Together they mean something akin to "Hami titan from Xinjiang".
Stratigraphy and Geography: H. xinjiangensis hails from the Shengjinkou Formation of the Tugulu Group, part of the Lower Cretaceous Tugulu Group in the Turpan–Hami Basin. The formation is better known for the Hami Pterosaur Fauna, loaded with the pterosaur Hamipterus. The holotype and only known specimen of H. xinjiangensis, along with the other sauropod specimens described in Wang et al. (2021), came from lacustrine sandstone. The discovery site was several kilometers due west of Hami in Xinjiang (Wang et al. 2021).
Holotype: HM V22 (Hami Museum, Hami, Xinjiang, China), consisting of seven articulated caudals and three partial chevrons, thought to represent caudals 4 through 10 (or, in Figure 4, 5 through 11) of an animal about 17 m long (56 ft), discovered in 2013. A small theropod shed tooth was found nearby (Wang et al. 2021).
Figure 4 in Wang et al. (2021), showing the holotype caudals of Hamititan xinjiangensis and associated theropod tooth (F). Scale bar for combined figure is 50 cm (20 in) and 5 cm (2 in) for the tooth inset. See here for full caption. CC BY 4.0.
Is H. xinjiangensis indeed a titanosaur? It's a fair question, given both the historical difficulties surrounding Early Cretaceous titanosaurs and the particular difficulties classifying East Asian Early Cretaceous sauropods, which seem to be doing their own thing. First things first: H. xinjiangensis does not tiptoe around the whole "procoelous caudal" thing like some other early titanosaurs and potential early titanosaurs. It is boldly, proudly procoelous. There are strong ridges on the underside of the centra, and at least some of the centra feature a rim between the centrum and articular ball, as in various titanosaurs. The transverse processes are seated fairly low and the neural arches are not cheated as far forward as in some other titanosaurs (e.g., aeolosaurs). The bones do not feature spongy texture (Wang et al. 2021). Despite some quibbles, it's certainly got more going for it than some other putative early titanosaurs (although I certainly would not be surprised if within a few years someone argued it was not a titanosaur, just another East Asian Early Cretaceous sauropod with a titanosaur-like tail).
Is it Silutitan? Well, we can be reasonably certain that the holotype of H. xinjiangensis is not from the same individual as the holotype of S. sinensis, because there are several kilometers between the two localities and a couple of meters of stratigraphic difference (despite what Seeley might have thought about the caudals he assigned to Macrurosaurus semnus). To look at this phylogenetically, Wang et al. (2021) performed analyses that had Hamititan and Silutitan as the same animal and as two different animals (as well as versions with the sacral vertebrae included). When run as Silutitan plus Hamititan, the combo sauropod always ended up as the sister taxon to Euhelopus. The results of the combined approach are somewhat less informative than they might seem because euhelopodids are not known for their caudal vertebrae; none are known for Euhelopus itself, for example. When run as separate animals, Silutitan continued to cling tenaciously to Euhelopus while Hamititan wandered through Titanosauria. Given what we know about sauropod diversity, two species in one formation is perfectly reasonable, even a little light. (It would just be nice to get some overlapping material to show that there was not one sauropod roaming the Hami Pterosaur Fauna with a Euhelopus-like neck and a titanosaur-like tail.)
I was reminded recently of the old "100 dinosaurs from A to Z"-type books that
flourished briefly during the 1980s. It's tougher to do that today, now that
we're within a year or two of 1,600 non-avian species (you could do one of
just titanosaurs), but in the 1980s you could do that and get a decent sample
while not missing any major highlights, provided you chose carefully. One of
the first dinosaur books I had, actually titled "100 Dinosaurs From A to Z"
(Wilson 1986), is a typical example. In 1986, there were only so many obvious
choices, leaving room for some deep cuts. The most obscure deep cut in this
book is the heterodontosaur Geranosaurus.
"Fossil pectens of a large size, some of them ten inches wide, are found
abundantly in the lower part of Virginia. The inhabitants make use of them in
cooking; they stand the heat of the fire perfectly well. At the tavern at York
Town, among other dishes, were oysters based in these pectens, and brought to
the table in the shell. I wanted the company of a few scientific friends to
enjoy the treat. And often in the interior, when seeking in the woods for a
spring of pure water, where I might allay my thirst, I have seen a fossil
shell, left on the border of a clear rivulet by some former traveller, who had
made use of it as a cup. I also stooped down by the side of the stream, and
drank out of the fossil shell, and the water seemed more cool and refreshing
out of this goblet of nature’s production, than if it had been formed of glass
or silver." (Finch 1833)
Chesapecten madisonius, not quite as famous as
C. jeffersonius but still quite nice.