First Tennesseans

Digging Dinosaurs

Many people may not realize that only five dinosaur bones have been found in Tennessee.

They belonged to a single adult Edmontosaurus, a plant-eating hadrosaur. These bones include three tail vertebrae, part of a fibula (lower leg bone), and a phalanx (foot bone).

The hadrosaur is known as a “duck-billed” dinosaur. It stood on its two hind feet and had a stiff tail. The tails were originally believed to have been used as paddles for swimming but scientist now believe they were used to support the weight and balance of the body.  

Hadrosaurs are believed to have spent most of their time on land, close to the water. They lived off a diet of rough land plants. Based on the sizes of the bones, the Tennessee hadrosaur is estimated to have been 8-9 meters in length (that is about the same height as an average two story building).

Scientists have determined that these bones are from the Mesozoic Era (about 74-84 million years ago). Dinosaurs reached their peak during this time and hadrosaurs were the most common type of dinosaurs from the Gulf Coast.

The Tennessee hadrosaur bones were discovered at the University of Tennessee among the paleontological collections. The bones had been received from the Tennessee Division of Geology in Nashville by paleontologist R. Lee Collins and taken to Knoxville.

Collins completed most of his work during the 1940s so it is assumed that the hadrosaur bones were acquired during that time. The original location, date of excavation and collector of the bones, however, is unknown. The bones probably came from West Tennessee. The dinosaur bones are currently on display at the Frank H. McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee.

Was the hadrosaur the only dinosaur to roam Tennessee lands? No, but without finding bones, it is hard to say which other animals lived here.


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