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Top: Cast of Goddard Space Flight Center discovery slab. Below: Color coded guide map (Goddard SFC/Ray and Sheila Stanford)
In 2012, Ray Stanford met his wife for lunch at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. In the parking lot, the self-taught fossil hunter noticed the unmistakable shape of a nodosaur’s track. After excavation and closer examination, an amazed Stanford discovered that the 2 square meters of ironstone was more than 110 million years old and contained at least 70 footprints of at least 8 types of mammals.
The accidental find showed tracks of five dinosaur species, footprints and feeding traces of flying reptiles, and unprecedented track evidence of the seemingly organized hunting of mammals by four small theropods. It was the largest and most diverse assemblage from the dinosaur age found in the Mid-Atlantic region—and ranks among the best fossil trackways in the world.
The discovery is just one of the remarkable diversity of fossils preserved within Maryland, from relatively recent Ice-Age mammals to fossils that are hundreds of millions of years old. Dinosaurs, mosasaurs, and crocodilians dominated the Mesozoic fauna, while during the much younger Miocene epoch, the giant shark megalodon and marine mammals teemed in the Atlantic Ocean that flooded coastal Maryland.
Stanford shares his personal adventure of discovering and interpreting this unprecedented find, right beside the path where astrophysicists and spacecraft engineers walk to lunch. He has tracked dinosaurs for 25 years, writing scientific papers and expanding the D.C.–Maryland area’s dinosaur-type count from 2 to 24. He also found a new dinosaur species, a hatchling nodosaur, Propanoplosaurus marylandicus, now displayed in the Natural History Museum. Stanford is joined by Stephen Godfrey, Smithsonian research associate and curator of paleontology at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, Maryland, who highlights the range of dinosaur and mammal fossils discovered in Maryland, and where they can be seen on display.
Learn more about the fossil evidence of an adorable baby armored dinosaur discovered by Ray Stanford, and why its significance earned it a place in the Natural History Museum.
S. Dillon Ripley Center
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Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)