ST. GEORGE – Sometimes, fortune smiles even on small museums, putting donors, scientists, and educators together in the right place at the right time.
It all began when Virginius “Jinks” Dabney, a Social Security and Workers Compensation lawyer in St. George, Utah, attended the opening of a new exhibit at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm, also in St. George. Jinks was there as one of the Dixie Sunshiners, who performed the ribbon-cutting for the exhibit opening. While visitors experienced the exhibit over refreshments, he overheard members of the museum’s Foundation board discussing the possibility of purchasing a rare replica of a British dinosaur called Scelidosaurus and finding donors for the cause. Jinks offered to help. When pressed as to how much he would like to donate, he said, “Actually, I’d like to pay for the whole thing.”
“I have always liked dinosaurs, and my wife Barbara Anne and I would really like to donate this to the City of St. George and to all the kids in southern Utah,” Dabney said. “I like unique things, and this certainly is unique. And this was an opportunity to share something rare and unusual with a lot of kids, particularly my nine grandkids.”
Now, the small museum in southwestern Utah, which houses a rare, 200 million-year-old site preserving unusual footprints of dinosaurs and other animals, adds to its exhibits the first and only Scelidosaurus displayed anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. The replica has been dubbed “the Dabney Scelidosaurus replica” in honor of Dabney and his wife Barbara Anne.
“My grandkids are referring to it as ‘Grandpa’s Dinosaur,’ which is pretty neat,” said Dabney. “They’re all coming down this month for a family reunion to check him out.”
Scelidosaurus is an early relative of later, more famous armored dinosaurs like Stegosaurus and Ankylosaurus. The only certain fossils of Scelidosaurus come from rocks exposed in cliffs along the southwestern coast of England.
“Scelidosaurus fits very well with the fossils at our museum because it lived at roughly the same time,” said Dr. Jerry Harris, Director of Paleontology at Dixie State College in St. George, scientific advisor to the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site. “At that time (190-200 million years ago), most of the world’s continents were still connected, so Scelidosaurus, or something like it, could have migrated from England into the American Southwest, but fossils of it haven’t been discovered yet.”
Since Scelidosaurus was first discovered in 1851, only about a dozen specimens have been found, most of which consist of just a few bones. In late 2000, a virtually complete skeleton, the best ever found, was discovered weathering from seaside cliffs between the towns of Charmouth and Lyme Regis, England by Mr. David Sole, a local fossil collector. Although it has been a bit squished from nearly 200 million years of burial, all of the bones in this unique specimen, including hundreds of armor plates and spikes, are preserved in their exact life positions.
“This Scelidosaurus was certainly the best and luckiest find of my life, and I’m delighted and proud to know that a replica will be on display alongside St. George’s amazing dinosaur footprint collection,” said Sole about the donation.
The only other replicas of this specimen are on display in Charmouth and in Belfast, Ireland.
As excited as St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site personnel are about the museum’s new acquisition, they won’t stop there. “We have a ‘wish’ list of other, time-appropriate skeletal replicas, some of which have never been exhibited anywhere in the world…and we’re always looking for donors,” said Harris, with a wink.
A special exhibit about Scelidosaurus focusing the Dabney replica opens at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site on February 9; more information is available at www.UtahDinosaurs.com.