Field of Science

Chindesaurus bryansmalli = "Gertie" the Dinosaur

In 1985 the holotype specimen of the basal theropod Chindesaurus bryansmalli was excavated in Petrified Forest National Park.  At the time it was (erroneously) billed in the media as the world's "earliest dinosaur".  The excavation was widely covered in the press with dozens of media passes distributed.  The block was ceremoniously lifted out of the Painted Desert by helicopter, with noted paleontologists such as Samuel Welles and Edwin Colbert aboard the "historic" flight. A party was held in honor of this event at the nearby Painted Desert Inn, complete with food and dinosaur ice sculptures from the Fred Harvey Company and of course a far too common summer power outage.  Park Rangers circled the building will vehicles, turned on their headlights, and the party continued.

At the time Chindesaurus was thought to represent a "prosauropod" based on it's primitive looking astragalus, but is now considered a herrerasaurid.  The specimen was affectionately given the nickname "Gertie" by the excavators and even today this is how the specimen is often referred to by many park staff.  In fact, when I first tried to find the specimen's catalogue record in 2001, it had been catalogued using this nickname rather than under Chindesaurus! Unfortunately, this name was far overused in 1980s and 90s park interpretive products and thus has been immortalized on the internet, as is readily apparent if one does an internet search for "Gertie" and "Petrified Forest".  Nonetheless, this specimen was very popular when first recovered, and casts of the skeleton are still on exhibit at the Rainbow Forest Museum. For those of you who are not familiar, the name stems from one of the earliest animated films ever made (1914), which featured a dinosaur named "Gertie" who would respond to commands by the animator and perform for audiences.  This short is still considered to be one of the most important animated films ever made. 


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