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Alaskan Dinosaurs

photo of fossil excavation along a river


Dinosaurs in Alaska

Do you picture dinosaurs in tropical jungles and hot climates? You probably doubt dinosaurs could have lived in Alaska. Yet dinosaurs not only lived here more than 65 million years ago, they thrived!

The story of the discovery of dinosaurs in Alaska began by accident in 1961. A geologist exploring along the Colville River on Alaska’s North Slope discovered what he assumed were bone samples from Ice Age animals, probably no more than two million years old, and didn't try to identify them further. Then in 1978, another geologist found dinosaur footprints near Black Lake on the Alaska Peninsula. These footprints and other imprints found elsewhere in Alaska in the 1970s revolutionized the thinking about the possibility that dinosaurs had at one time lived in Alaska. In 1984, a USGS geologist reexamined the 1961 fossils and identified them as the first dinosaur bones found in Alaska. To date, at least 12 different types of dinosaurs have been discovered on the North Slope. In 1994, a 90 million year old hadrosaur was discovered in the central Talkeetna Mountains. It is the oldest hadrosaur known in Alaska and one of the oldest in North America.

Some of the same polar dinosaurs that lived in Alaska, also lived in areas as far south as Texas. Paleontologists hope to one day understand how the polar dinosaurs survived the cold, whether they were warm-blooded like modern birds and mammals or coldblooded like modern reptiles, if dinosaurs migrated with the seasons, and why they became extinct.

woman holding a large fossil
Hadrosaur track found in Denali

Dinosaurs in Denali

The first evidence of dinosaurs in Denali National Park was discovered near Igloo Creek about 35 miles west of the park entrance on June 27, 2005. The fossil, a three-toed dinosaur track, is roughly 70 million years old. It was found during a geology field camp in the park. On this particular day an Associate Professor of Geology casually rested his hand on an outcrop of the Cantwell Formation not far from the Denali Park Road at Igloo Creek as he explained to his students that this type of Cretaceous sedimentary rock commonly preserves dinosaur tracks and that they should be alert for them. To his surprise, a student immediately spied the dinosaur track not far from his gesturing hand and asked, “Like that one?” This first dinosaur fossil found is a cast, i.e., a bump on the rock, not an indentation. It was made when a dinosaur left its three-toed footprint in mud. Over time this depression filled with sediments that solidified into rock. The mudstone weathered away and left the cast exposed. This fossil track was made by a theropod, a meat-eating dinosaur with small front “arms” that walked on its hind legs. The track cast is about 9 inches (~23 cm) from toe to heel and 6 inches (15 cm) wide and is estimated to have been made by a modest sized theropod, around 10 feet (3 meters) long that might have weighed 100-200 lbs (45-90 kg). The fossil is now displayed in the Murie Science and Learning Center near the park's entrance.

Since the discovery of this first dinosaur track fossil in 2005, hundreds of sites with thousands of other fossils have been found in Denali, with new fossils finds every year. These fossils include additional species of dinosaurs tracks and coprolites (feces), as well as traces of flying reptiles, birds, clams, worms, and other invertebrates. A more complete ecological picture about life in Denali about 70 million years ago is emerging from the first fossil find and all the ones that have followed.

Where to see dinosaur remains in Alaska

Bureau of Land Management Resource Library & Bureau of Land Management Public Room

First Floor of the New Federal Building
222 W. 7th Ave.
Anchorage, AK 99501
Display includes: fossil bone remains from a Edmontosaurus, interpretive photos and information.

University of Alaska Museum
907 Yukon Drive,
Fairbanks, AK 99775
Displays include: remains of the Edmonosaurus, skin impressions from an Arctic dinosaur, cast of a Pachyrhinosaurus skull similar to one found in Alaska, as well as other interpretive information.

Wasilla Museum
323 N. Main Street
Wasilla, AK 99654
Displays Include: fossil skill of a Nodosaurid ankylosaur and interpretive information.


If you have any further questions about dinosaurs, fossils, or any related subject, contact:

The Bureau of Land Management

222 West 7th Avenue, #13
Anchorage, AK 99513-7599
(907) 271-5960

To learn more about dinosaurs, visit these websites!