Southern Utah University geology major Jonathan Ginouves has started the preparation of a tyrannosaur jawbone fossil he found earlier this year. As an extension of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Ginouves is currently preparing the fossil in a lab on Southern Utah University’s campus.
Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) spans nearly 1 million acres in southern Utah. Ginouves has been working in Kanab as an intern with the GSENM for the past three summers. Ginouves discovered the fossil while doing fieldwork with the paleontology crew during one of his last weeks on the job.
“The fieldwork required me to camp for three to five days at a time and dig big holes in the ground,” said Ginouves. “It is pretty demanding but it is always very rewarding to see the fossils come out of the ground. This time, we were out surveying and I didn’t have the highest hopes when I saw a rock that had tumbled down into the streambed. It had a row of teeth imprints which is immediately exciting because it’s not every day that you find a tyrannosaur face.”
Ginouves said he believes he was allowed to prepare the fossil in part because he was the one who found it, but also because of the demand for Tyrannosaur data.
“There is probably a two or three-year backlog of fossils at the lab in Kanab,” said Ginouves. “If I get this prepared and ready for research they can use it. Tyrannosaurs get high priority because my boss has an active research interest in them.”
Ginouves wanted to take advantage of this opportunity but was soon beginning his fall semester at SUU and would be unable to travel to the lab in Kanab as frequently as necessary to complete the long process of fossil preparation on the Tyrannosaur jawbone. Ginouves reached out to SUU faculty, who were more than willing to work with him. Together they found a space for Ginouves to use as a fossil preparation lab on SUU campus.
Equipment for the lab has been supplied by Ginouves and the GSENM lab. The lab space on SUU’s campus works as a direct extension of the GSENM lab allowing Ginouves to work on the fossil while still attending classes in Cedar City.
Prepping the fossil is a tedious process and the cleanup is done with a tiny air tool called a scribe. To date, Ginouves has spent about 40 hours prepping the fossil and he expects it will take at least an additional 50 hours to complete. Once complete, the fossil will be moved back to the GSENM lab for research, then eventually sent to the Natural History Museum of Utah. An intersection of a hobby and a career, Ginouves plans to continue building his expertise and work in paleontology in the future.
“Jon is an exceptional student who combines his boundless enthusiasm for paleontology with intelligence and dedication to science,” said SUU geology professor Grant Shimmer. “He is extremely knowledgeable and is rapidly gaining skills and connections with the paleontological community, so he has a bright future ahead of him.”
Though preparing the fossil is a great opportunity for Ginouves, finding it was a bigger adventure. After discovering the jawbone, he began marking the site and recording the location. As he worked, Ginouves kept hearing hissing noises but thinking it was air escaping from his water bottle he continued working.
“When I was finally done and I picked up my pack and this hiss turned into a rattle,” said Ginouves. “There was a rattlesnake behind the rock the fossil was in and it couldn’t get out because I’d blocked it. I’ve found some cool stuff out there but this probably takes the cake.”
SUU’s geology program is well known for its location in one of the most geologically spectacular settings in the country. The program stresses field-based experiences and undergraduate research opportunities while students earn their geology degree in this stunning setting.