A new species of spiky-headed dinosaurs has been discovered in Utah, the oldest of its genus ever found in North America. Akainacephalus johnsoni is 75 million years and like its cousin, the Ankylosaurus, had an armored body and an imposing club tail.
The dinosaur's scientific journey began 10 years ago in 2008, when a paleontologist with the Bureau of Land Management found what appeared to be a fossil site at the Kaiparowits Formation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. A hotbed of prehistoric discovery, the Kaiparowits "dinosaur Shangri La." The National Momument was recently shrunk through an order from President Trump, and some of its former land has now been purchased by a mining company.
But even in a dinosaur paradise, Scott Richardson's fossil site stood out. "It had bones from a number of different types of animals. And not only individual bones, but associated skeletons,” says Randall Irmis, chief curator of the National History Museum of Utah, where the bones prepped, in a .
There were duckbilled dinosaurs, pig-nosed dinosaurs, and then a dinosaur with a face full of spikes that nobody had seen before.
The Museum found a lot of dinosaur to study. “We have a large portion of the skeleton, including nearly all of the skull, a lot of the vertebral column, the pelvis, as well as the limbs and ribs, and a lot of the armor, as well. It’s pretty rare to find so much of the skeleton in one place,” Irmis says.
The bones were mainly prepped by an expert volunteer named Randy Johnson, for whom the dinosaur is named. Johnson put in hundreds on the preparatory work, everything from industrial diamond burrs to carefully applied acetic acid.
“It’s completely different from any other ankylosaurids that we’ve actually seen,” says Jelle Wiersma, a PhD student who has studied Ankylosaurids with Irmis.
The most striking difference is up front with that spiky head. Akainacephalus technically means "spiky head," which shows the uniqueness of that built-in helmet. But the dinosaur was covered in osteoderms, bone tissue deposits which forms scales and plates.
It's been a big week for the Cretaceous Period. Earlier this week, scientists announced they had discovered the oldest baby snake in known history, trapped in amber 99 million years ago.