WASHED ASHORE – A NEW ELASMOSAURID SPECIMEN (PLESIOSAURIA: SAUROPTERYGIA) FROM SHOREFACE BIOCLASTIC DEPOSITS OF THE JUANA LOPEZ MEMBER (MIDDLE TURONIAN), CARLILE SHALE; DISCOVERED, EXCAVATED, AND PREPARED BY CITIZEN STEWARDS OF U.S. FOREST SERVICE AND DENVER MUSEUM OF NATURE AND SCIENCE
The bones occur atop and partly contained within a 20 cm thick calcarenite bed, widely strewn over an area of 20 m2. Only a small percentage of the skeleton is present, but fortunately vertebrae throughout the axial skeleton are present, including a broad sample of the cervical series, and several trunk, sacral, and caudal vertebrae. Also present are articulated coracoids, numerous rib/gastralia portions, phalanges, a single rooted tooth, and numerous polished silicic pebbles (likely gastroliths).
The bedding plane contains numerous ammonite molds (Prionocyclus) and an abundant network of Thalassinoides feeding traces. Elasmosaur bones projecting above the bedding plane are heavily eroded, while those portions encased within the calcarenite bed are well preserved. This suggests the scattered bones lay half submerged in the bioclastic sand, and were subject to considerable weathering (perhaps subaerial exposure) prior to burial. The result is an intriguing taphonomic scene, that of a large elasmosaurid carcass washed ashore by wave action. Wave energy dispersed the skeletal elements after decay of soft tissues, but large size of individual bones prevented them from moving so far as to be completely disassociated.