Digging Up Sauropods

Part of the The World's Largest Dinosaurs exhibition.

To figure out how sauropods moved, breathed or ate, paleontologists need fossils. For example, we know a great deal about Mamenchisaurus because of fossils uncovered in China. Fossil expeditions around the world have uncovered the remains of hundreds of sauropod species. Large numbers of sauropod fossils have been found in Wyoming, in the western U.S., at a site called Howe Quarry.

A picture of a rolling plain with  red rock, dry vegetation, and rocky hills in the background

Hunting for Fossils

In 1934, an expedition from the American Museum of Natural History set out for Wyoming to hunt for dinosaur fossils. The team included famous paleontologist Barnum Brown, who discovered the first Tyrannosaurus rex. Another member of the party was Roland Bird, who had no formal education in paleontology, but was experienced in fossil excavation.

A man standing outdoors beside a massive fossil bone that is as high as the man's ribs. Dry rocky hills are in the background.

Dig "A Dinosaur Treasure Trove"

An area of dry brown soil revealing the partially excavated fossils of hundreds of bones and skeletons jumbled together.

In six months of digging, the 1934 crew found around 4,000 dinosaur fossils in an area about 45 by 65 feet (14 by 20 meters). Team leader and American Museum of Natural History paleontologist Barnum Brown, commented that the site was "an absolute, knockout dinosaur treasure trove!"

Legs, Teeth, Ribs and More

Among the thousands of fossils found at Howe Quarry were leg bones, teeth, ribs, vertebrae (neck, back and tail bones) and many others. They all dated back about 155 million years and many were from the sauropod Diplodocus. Teeth from theropod dinosaurs, which ate meat and walked on two legs, were also uncovered.


Two people wearing field attire and sitting on the ground in a  rocky excavation area.

Team member Roland Bird drew this large-scale diagram of exactly where fossils from at least 25 dinosaurs were found at the site. How many can you find?


The team found more than 1,000 vertebrae on site--more than any other type of bone.


There are 15 thigh bones shown here--some of them more than three feet (one meter) long.


Each of the 25 sauropods preserved at Howe Quarry had at least 20 ribs.


Sauropod teeth were often no more than a few inches long. The team did find teeth, but they can't be seen at this scale.


Complete fossil skulls are rare, but the team found one partial skull at the end of a long neck.