Giant 152-million-year-old log discovered in ancient Vernal forest

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Paleontologists and volunteers prepare the Manwell Log to be moved to the museum. (Courtesy of the Utah Department of Natural Resources)

VERNAL, Utah (ABC4) – Paleontologists are rejoicing in the discovery of a giant, ancient petrified log found in Vernal.

The Manwell Log is a petrified portion of a once-living tree from 152 million years ago. The log spans 12 feet long and weighs over eight tons.

To give perspective, that means the log weighs more than the average school bus!

The ancient log was discovered in an area known as Morrison Formation or “The Graveyard of the Dinosaurs.”

Paleontologists and volunteers prepare the Manwell Log to be moved to the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum. (Courtesy of the Utah Department of Natural Resources)

According to the Utah Department of Natural Resources (DNR), this area was originally home to a large population of plant-based dinosaurs, especially sauropods. The area was a dense, nutrient-rich forest environment.

Since the discovery of the Manwell Log, paleontologists have discovered 24 more petrified logs of various sizes. The Manwell Log is named after the woman who discovered it, a visitor who stumbled upon the log about nine years ago.

Mary Beth Bennis, the education curator for the Utah Field House of Natural History Museum and a volunteer, Dale Gray, were researching fossil logs in the Morrison Formation when Manwell first reported the log discovery.

An aerial view of the “Manwell Log” as researchers and paleontologists excavate the ancient specimen. (Courtesy of the Utah Department of Natural Resources)

“Manwell visited the Utah Field House of Natural History and told me about an incredible log she had come across while she was working,” says Bennis. “I don’t recall exactly what she did, but I believe it was survey work. Since she had no GPS coordinates, I took as accurate a description as I could of the tree’s location to better our odds. Somewhat remarkably we found the log and began to gather data on it.”

Samples of the log were sent to Germany for analyzation and the final results revealed the log’s age to be 152 million years old. The log is an ancient ancestor of the modern-day Norfolk Pine tree.

Upon this amazing discovery, researchers had an even trickier task to tackle — moving the precious log into a museum for preservation.

The Manwell Log being transported to the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum using a large cradle. (Courtesy of the Utah Department of Natural Resources)

“Since funding is always a problem for museums, I was able to obtain a number of grants, and secure the valuable assistance of an engineer, Phil Policelli, who donated his time to design a cradle for the log,” Bennis says. “Not his first time at the rodeo, Phil also designed the cradle for the 9-ton Utahraptor block that now resides in Salt Lake City. This cradle would provide support for the entire length as the fossil made the stressful trip from the field to the museum.”

After successfully lifting the massive log, researchers also had to transfer the giant specimen to the museum using towing vehicles.

The entire journey of transporting the Manwell Log took over two weeks, researchers say.

Visitors can now witness the ancient Manwell Log at The Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum in Vernal where it will continue to be researched and enjoyed for many generations to come.

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