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Cedar Mountain Formation
Stratigraphic range: Late Berriasian-Cenomanian
~140–95Ma
Type Geological formation
Unit of Dakota Group
Sub-units See text
Underlies Naturita Formation
Overlies Morrison Formation
Thickness Varies, some sections over 1000 metres
Lithology
Primary Conglomerate, sandstone, mudstone
Location
Coordinates 39°15′00″N 110°49′05″W / 39.250°N 110.818°W / 39.250; -110.818
Approximate paleocoordinates 40°12′N 69°00′W / 40.2°N 69.0°W / 40.2; -69.0
Region  Utah
Country  United States
Type section
Named for Cedar Mountain
Named by Stokes
Year defined 1944

The Cedar Mountain Formation is the name given to a distinctive sedimentary geologic formation in eastern Utah. The formation was named for Cedar Mountain in northern Emery County, Utah, where William Lee Stokes first studied the exposures in 1944.

Geology

CMF-oucrop
The drab-colored lower portion of the Cedar Mountain Formation, overlying the brighter Morrison Formation.

The formation occurs between the underlying Morrison Formation and overlying Naturita Formation (sometimes formerly called the Dakota Formation).

It is composed of non-marine sediments, that is, sediments deposited in rivers, lakes and on flood plains. Based on various fossils and radiometric dates, the Cedar Mountain Formation was deposited during the last half of the Early Cretaceous Epoch, about 127 - 98 million years ago (mya).

It has lithography similar to the Burro Canyon Formation in the region.

Dinosaur fossils occur throughout the formation, but their study has only occurred since the early 1990s. The dinosaurs in the lower part of the formation differ from those in the upper part. These two dinosaur assemblages, characterized by distinct dinosaurs, show the replacement of older, European-like dinosaurs with younger, Asian-like dinosaurs as the North American Continental Plate drifted westward. A middle dinosaur assemblage may be present, but the fossil record is not clear.

Stratigraphy

The Cedar Mountain Formation is sandwiched between the Morrison Formation below and the Naturita Formation and Mancos Shale above. The youngest date for Morrison just below the Cedar Mountain Formation is 148.1 ± 0.5 Ma . or lower Tithonian. Typically, the Jurassic-Cretaceous boundary in western North America is marked by an unconformity of variable length, and typically signifies 10-49 million years of missing geologic time. This boundary between the Morrison and Cedar Mountain is commonly marked by a horizon of carbonate nodules or by highly polished pebbles that are allegedly gastroliths.

Although not part of the Cedar Mountain Formation, the Naturita Formation immediately overlies the Cedar Mountain and marks the encroaching Western Interior Seaway. The Naturita is not uniformly distributed and was eroded away in places by the advancing Seaway so that the marine shales of the Mancos Formation lay directly on the Mussentuchit or its equivalent. The name Dakota Formation has been improperly used for these strata.

CMF-stratcol-revised
Stratigraphic column showing the various members that make up the Cedar Mountain Formation and their approximate geologic age.
Missing strata either were not deposited or were deposited, but later eroded.

Formation members

Only recently did the 125 m (410 ft) thick formation get subdivided into smaller, distinctive beds called members. There is a debate as to whether there are five members or four depending whether the Buckhorn Conglomerate is considered to be at the top of the Morrison Formation or at the base of the Cedar Mountain Formation; most geologists and paleontologists consider it part of the Cedar Mountain Formation. In ascending order the remaining members are the Yellow Cat Member, Poison Strip Sandstone, Ruby Ranch Member, and the Mussentuchit Member. Each of these members are named after a geographic area where they were first studied.

  • The Buckhorn Conglomerate is considered the lowermost member of the Cedar Mountain Formation in the region of the San Raphael Swell by Stokes. It is named for exposures near Buckhorn Reservoir near Cedar Mountain. Its position immediately below the Ruby Ranch Member suggests that it may be equivalent to the channel sandstones in the Yellow Cat Member and the Poison Strip Sandstone farther to the east. This idea is strengthened by the similar composition of the gravels in these members, but a direct correlation has not yet been established.
  • The Yellow Cat Member is named for exposures near the Yellow Cat mining area north of Arches National Park. It is limited to the eastern portions of the formation and is thickest near Arches National Monument. The member is composed of drab greyish mudstones and some lenses of sandstone. The mudstones were deposited on flood plains, and show evidence of ancient soil development called paleosols. The mudstones originated as flood deposits from river channels that are marked by the sandstone lenses. Formerly considered Barremian, the latest radiometric and paleopalinological studies conclude that the Yellow Member is older, with deposition occurring from the middle Berriasian to early Hauterivian stages.
  • The Poison Strip Sandstone was named for prominent, cliff-forming sandstones in the Poison Strip uranium district north of Arches National Monument. It is actually a series of sandstones that were deposited in river channels, and lesser amounts of mudstones and limestones that were deposited on the flood plain and small ponds. The Poison Strip Sandstone may represent a meandering river complex. Based on the position of the Poison Strip between the Yellow Cat and Ruby Ranch members, it probably was latest Barremian to earliest Aptian. Carbonate growths appear on bones in the quarry from which Venenosaurus was extracted.
    • The Poison Strip Sandstone was the source of Tony's Bone Bed, a significant concentration of dinosaur bones. Before it was discovered, only possible Sauropelta remains and the isolated bones of sauropods and theropods had been recovered from the Poison Strip member. Volunteers from the Denver Museum of Natural History discovered Tony's Bone Bed in 1998, 3.75m below the top of the member. The quality of the preserved remains in Tony's Bone Bed are "highly variable". The condition of many of its fossils suggest the deposit accumulated gradually. Many of the bones seem to have been trampled before burial, and some of the ends of bones are missing and were likely removed by scavengers. None of the bones were preserved articulated with each other. All of this suggests a significant period of time between the deaths of the animals and their final entombment. Tony's Bonebed probably accumulated over time when the water in the river channel was low during the dry season.
  • The Ruby Ranch Member is the most widespread and distinctive member of the Cedar Mountain. It was named for exposures on the Ruby Ranch located southeast of Green River, Utah. The member is composed of maroon mudstones with irregular spheres of carbonate nodules. The nodules formed in ancient soils that developed in the mud deposited on the flood plain in a strongly seasonal, semiarid climate. Evaporation of groundwater during the dry season concentrated calcium carbonate and other minerals in the upper parts of the soil horizon. Radiometric dates place the upper portions of the Ruby Ranch in the late Aptian. Exhumed river channels in the Ruby Ranch indicate that stream flow during the Aptian was towards the northeast, the direction of the encrouching Western Interior Seaway.
  • The Mussentuchit Member is the uppermost member of the Cedar Mountain Formation. It was named for exposures along Mussentuchit Wash southwest of the San Rafael Swell. It is predominantly composed of grey mudstones high in organic carbon from fossil plant material, as well as volcanic ash. The mudstones were originally deposited on a broad coastal plain with a high water table or with abundant rainfall. Thus, carbonate nodules are rare. A radiometric date of 98.37 ± 0.07 Ma places the upper part of the member in the Lower Cenomanian, while lower portions of the member have been dated to 104.46 ± 0.95 Ma, in the Albian stage.

Fossil content

The Cedar Mountain Formation is proving to contain one of the richest and most diverse Early Cretaceous dinosaur faunas in the world. The discoveries to date have revealed that the origin of some of the later Cretaceous dinosaurs may lie in the Cedar Mountain, but further work is needed to understand the timing and effects the changing position of the North American Plate had on dinosaurian evolution. Also needed is a better understanding of the effects that the changing North American Plate had on the non-dinosaur vertebrates.

Dinosaurs

CMF-dinos
Example of dinosaurs from the Cedar Mountain Formation include the polacanthid ankylosaur Gastonia from the Yellow Cat Member (upper left), Utahraptor from the Yellow Cat Member (upper right), a large theropod represented by a tooth from the Ruby Ranch Member (lower left), and Tenontosaurus from the base of the Mussentuchit (lower right).

The Cedar Mountain Formation is one of the last major dinosaur-bearing formations to be studied in the United States. Although sporadic bone fragments were known prior to 1990, serious research did not begin until that year. Since then, several organizations have conducted field work collecting dinosaurs, chiefly the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the College of Eastern Utah, the Utah Geological Survey, Brigham Young University, and Dinosaur National Monument staff. This research indicates that at least two, possibly three dinosaur assemblages are contained within the formation.

The oldest of these assemblages is from the Yellow Cat, Poison Strip and basal Ruby Ranch members. The small, Ornitholestes-like theropod Nedcolbertia and the brachiosaurid sauropod Cedarosaurus may be considered as relics, with their closest relatives in the Morrison Formation. In contrast, the polacanthid ankylosaur Gastonia and a yet unnamed iguanodontid are similar to related forms from the Lower Cretaceous of southern England. These dinosaurs show that the connection between North America and Europe still existed during the Barremian. All of this changes, however, with the upper dinosaur assemblage from the top of the Ruby Ranch and Mussentuchit members. This upper assemblage shows greater similarities with Asian dinosaur assemblages from the same time. For example, the primitive ankylosaurid Cedarpelta is related to Gobisaurus and Shamosaurus from Mongolia, but is more primitive than either because it has teeth in the premaxilla. The upper assemblage also has a tyrannosaurid, a ceratopsian, and a pachycephalosaur. Although not a dinosaur, the primitive mammal Gobiconodon is known from both Mongolia and the Mussentuchit Member. Evidence for a middle dinosaur assemblage between the older and younger ones is controversial because the evidence mostly depends on a single specimen of the ornithopod Tenontosaurus from high in the Ruby Ranch Member and the sauropod Astrodon from low in the Ruby Ranch. Regardless, the upper and lower dinosaur assemblages in the Cedar Mountain Formation document the separation of North America and Europe, the westward drift of North America, and its connection with Asia 10 to 15 million years later.

Data from Carpenter (2006),{sfn|Carpenter|2006}} Cifelli et al. (1999), Kirkland and Madsen (2007), and The Paleobiology Database.

Ankylosaurs

Ankylosaurs reported from the Cedar Mountain Formation
Genus Species Location Member Material Notes Images
Animantarx Animantarx ramaljonesi
  • Mussentuchit Member
"Partial skull [and] skeleton."
Gastonia burgei dinosaur
Gastonia burgei
Cedarpelta Cedarpelta bilbeyhallorum
  • Mussentuchit Member
"Skull [and] postcranium." Cedarpelta bilbeyhallorum was not from the Ruby Ranch Member as initially described.
Gastonia Gastonia burgei
  • Upper Yellow Cat Member
"[Two] skulls, [two] partial skulls, [and four] or [five] partial skeletons."
G. lorriemcwhinneyae
  • Ruby Ranch Member
Peloroplites Peloroplites cedrimontanus
  • Mussentuchit Member
Sauropelta Indeterminate
  • Ruby Ranch Member

Neornithischians

A large sail-backed iguanodont represented by large vertebrae and fragmentary remains from the Upper Yellow Cat Member.

Neornithischians reported from the Cedar Mountain Formation
Genus Species Location Member Material Notes Images

Cedrorestes

Cedrorestes crichtoni

  • Upper Yellow Cat Member
Eolambia restoration
Eolambia
Life restoration of Hippodraco
Hippodraco
Life restoration of Iguanacolossus
Iguanocolossus
Deinonychus (Raptor Prey Restraint)
Zephyrosaurus being attacked by a Deinonychus

Eolambia

Eolambia caroljonesa

  • Mussentuchit Member

Hippodraco

Hippodraco scutodens

  • Upper Yellow Cat Member

Iguanacolossus

Iguanacolossus fortis

  • Lower Yellow Cat Member

Iguanodon

Iguanodon ottingeri

"Teeth."

Dubious.

Planicoxa

Planicoxa venenica

  • Poison Strip Member

"Associated postcranium."

Tenontosaurus

Tenontosaurus tiletti

  • Mussentuchit Member
  • It was the most common ornithopod in the area.
Indeterminate
  • Ruby Ranch Member
  • It was the most common ornithopod in the area.

Zephyrosaurus

Zephyrosaurus schaffi

  • Mussentuchit Member

Marginocephalians

Unknown neoceratopsian present in the Mussentuchit Member. Unnamed pachycephalosaurid present in the Mussentuchit Member.

Sauropods

Sauropods reported from the Cedar Mountain Formation
Genus Species Location Member Material Notes Images

Abydosaurus

Abydosaurus mcintoshi

  • Mussentuchit Member
Abydosaurus NT
Abydosaurus
Brontomerus utahraptor2
Brontomerus
Moabosaurus utahensis restoration
Moabosaurus

cf. Astrodon

Indeterminate

  • Ruby Ranch Member.

Brontomerus

Brontomerus mcintoshi

  • Ruby Ranch Member

Cedarosaurus

Cedarosaurus weiskopfae

  • Upper Yellow Cat Member

"Postcranial skeleton."

Mierasaurus

Mierasaurus bobyoungi

  • Lower Yellow Cat Member

Moabosaurus

Moabosaurus utahensis

  • Poison Strip Member

"Remains of at least 18 fragmentary individuals."

Venenosaurus

Venenosaurus dicrocei

  • Poison Strip Member

"Partial postcranial skeleton."

Theropods

Indeterminate allosauroid material present in the Lower Yellow Cat and Ruby Ranch Members. Indeterminate dromaeosaurine present in the Mussentuchit Member. Indeterminate velociraptorine remains present in the Mussentuchit Member. Indeterminate troodontid remains present in the Mussentuchit Member. Indeterminate therizinosaurid remains present in the Mussentuchit Member. Indeterminate dromaeosaurine remains present in the Mussentuchit Member. Possible indeterminate hesperornithiformes present in the Mussentuchit Member.

Theropods reported from the Cedar Mountain Formation
Genus Species Location Member Material Notes Images

cf. Acrocanthosaurus

Indeterminate

  • Ruby Ranch Member.
Falcarius Restoration
Falcarius
Geminiraptor NT
Geminiraptor
Moros intrepidus reconstruction
Moros
Nedclobertia
Nedcolbertia
Siats reconstruction
Siats
Yurgovuchia
Yurgovuchia

Deinonychus

Indeterminate

  • Mussentuchit Member.

Falcarius

Falcarius utahensis

  • Lower Yellow Cat Member.

Geminiraptor

Geminiraptor suarezarum

  • Lower Yellow Cat Member.

Martharaptor

Martharaptor greenriverensis

  • Upper Yellow Cat Member.

Moros

Moros intrepidus

  • Mussentuchit Member.

Nedcolbertia

Nedcolbertia justinhofmanni

  • Upper Yellow Cat Member.

"Partial skeletons of [three] individuals."

cf. Richardoestesia

Indeterminate

  • Mussentuchit Member.

Siats

Siats meekerorum

  • Mussentuchit Member.
"Partial postcranial skeleton of immature individual."

Utahraptor

Utahraptor ostrommaysi

  • Upper Yellow Cat Member.

"Skull and postcranial fragments."

Indeterminate

  • Poison Strip Member.

Yurgovuchia

Yurgovuchia doellingi

  • Lower Yellow Cat Member.

Other fossils

CMF-utah
Map of Utah showing the location of the Cedar Mountain Formation (red). The San Rafael Swell is the dome-like structure that the formation jogs around. Base map data courtesy of geodata.gov

Besides dinosaurs, the Cedar Mountain Formation has produced a wealth of small fossils (a.k.a. microfossils), mostly teeth from a variety of vertebrates. Most of these specimens have been found in the Mussentuchit Member where they are collected by washing the rock through fine window screen. The teeth and other small fossils are picked from the residue.

  • Fish include primitive fresh or brackish water sharks (e.g., Hybodus) and rays (c.f., Ischyrhiza), the lungfish (Ceratodus) and several bony fishes known from vertebrae. Lungfish are able to breathe air when pond water becomes poorly oxygenated, such as during the dry season.
  • Amphibians include both salamanders (e.g. Albanerpeton) and frogs, but neither is common.
  • Reptiles are more abundant and better studied. These include aquatic turtles (Glyptops, Naomichelys), at least one type of snake (Coniophis), and several different lizards, including teiids (Bicuspidon), possible skinks and some extinct families (e.g., Paramacellodidae). Crocodiles are also present but their remains are fragmentary. They include Bernissartia, an unnamed atoposaurid, and unnamed pholidosaurid. At least one fragment of a large pterosaur is known from the base of the Mussentuchut Member. Unfortunately, it is too incomplete to identify to family or genus.
  • Bird remains are very fragmentary because of their delicate structure. At least one aquatic bird is known. Based on the diversity of birds from the Early Cretaceous of China, other birds were probably present in Utah at this time as well.
  • Mammals are the most thoroughly studied thanks to the work of Jeffrey Eaton and Richard Cifelli. They include triconodonts (e.g., Astroconodon), which have the molar cusps arranged in a single row; symmetrodonts (e.g., Spalacolestes; Spalacotheridium), characterized by molars having three cusps arranged in a triangle; multituberculates (e.g., Janumys; Cedaromys; Paxacimexomys), with their multiple rows of cusps on the molars; one of the earliest marsupials (Kokopellia), and several unnamed tribotheres, characterized by molars having three cusps that are typically asymmetrically arranged.

The various vertebrates are listed by member in the list below.

Non-vertebrate fossils are more widely distributed in the Cedar Mountain Formation. These include the distinctive reproductive structures of fresh water algae that are called charophytes. Charophytes are so distinctive that they are used to correlate strata of similar age, and thus were used to show that the Yellow Cat Member was time equivalent to Barremian age strata in England. Ostracods, small crustaceans with clam-like shells, also occur in fresh water deposits, along with "finger-clams" or chonchostracans. Pollen have been found in the Mussentuchit Member and are important for reconstructing the environment. In a few places, large petrified logs are known, especially from the Poison Strip. These conifer logs are over a meter in diameter and indicate the presence of trees over 30 m (100 feet). The distinct wood of the tree fern Tempskya is occasional found as well.

Data from Carpenter (2006),{sfn|Carpenter|2006}} Cifelli et al. (1999), KirklaPeripheralsnd and Madsen (2007), and The Paleobiology Database.

Other reptiles

Indeterminate pterosaur remains in the Mussentuchit Member.

Crurotarsans

Indeterminate crocodilian remains present in the Yellow Cat and Ruby Ranch Members. Indeterminate pholidosaurid remains present in the Mussentuchit Member. Indeterminate atoposaurid remains present in the Mussentuchit Member.

Crurotarsans of the Cedar Mountain Formation
Genus Species Location Member Abundance Description Images

cf. Bernissartia

cf. Bernissartia sp.

  • Mussentuchit Member
Bernissartia BW
Bernissartia

Dakotasuchus

Dakotasuchus kingi

  • Mussentuchit Member.
Lepidosaurs
Lepidosaurs of the Cedar Mountain Formation
Genus Species Location Member Abundance Description Images

Toxolophosaurus

Toxolophosaurus sp.

  • Yellow Cat Member.

Harmodontosaurus

Harmodontosaurus emeryensis

  • Mussentuchit Member.

Dimekodontosaurus

Dimekodontosaurus madseni

  • Mussentuchit Member.

Dicothodon

Dicothodon moorensis

  • Mussentuchit Member.

Pseudosaurillus

Pseudosaurillus sp.

  • Mussentuchit Member.
Bicuspidon Bicuspidon numerosus
  • Mussentuchit Member.

Bothriagenys

Bothriagenys mysterion

  • Mussentuchit Member.

Primaderma

Primaderma nessovi

  • Mussentuchit Member.

Coniophis

Coniophis sp.

  • Mussentuchit Member.
Turtles

Indeterminate baenid remains present in the Mussentuchit Member.

Turtles of the Cedar Mountain Formation
Genus Species Location Member Abundance Description Images

Glyptops

Glyptops sp.

  • Yellow Cat Member
  • Mussentuchit Member
Left posterior Baenid turtle pleurals and peripherals
Peripherals

Naomichelys

Naomichelys sp.

  • Mussentuchit Member.
gen. nov. sp. nov.
  • Yellow Cat Member

Amphibians

Indeterminate anuran remains present in the Mussentuchit Member.

Amphibians of the Cedar Mountain Formation
Genus Species Location Member Abundance Description Images

Albanerpeton

Albanerpeton cf. A. nexuosus

  • Mussentuchit Member
Albanerpeton BW
Albanerpeton

Fish

Bony fish

Indeterminate amiiform present in the Yellow Cat and Mussentuchit Members. Indeterminate neopterygion remains present in the Mussentuchit Member. Possible indeterminate pycnodontid remains present in the Mussentuchit Member. Possible indeterminate lepisosteid remains present in the Mussentuchit Member.

Bony Fishes of the Cedar Mountain Formation
Genus Species Location Member Abundance Description Images

Semionotus?

Semionotus? sp.

  • Yellow Cat Member
Semionotus
Semionotus
Ceratodus
Ceratodus

Ceratodus

C. kempae

  • Yellow Cat Member

C. kirklandi

  • Yellow Cat Member

C. molossus

  • Mussentuchit Member
Cartilaginous fish

A new genus and species of orectolobid present in the Mussentuchit Member.

Cartilaginous Fishes of the Cedar Mountain Formation
Genus Species Location Member Abundance Description Images

Hybodus

Hybodus sp.

  • Ruby Ranch Member
  • Mussentuchit Member
Hybodus NT
Hybodus

Polyacrodus

Polyacrodus parvidens

  • Mussentuchit Member

Lissodus

Lissodus sp.

  • Mussentuchit Member

Ischyrhiza

Ischyrhiza sp.

  • Mussentuchit Member

Pseudohypolophus

Pseudohypolophus sp.

  • Mussentuchit Member

cf. Baibisha

New species

  • Mussentuchit Member

Cretorectolobus

Indeterminate

  • Mussentuchit Member

Mammaliaformes

New genus and species of pappotheriid present in the Mussentuchit Member. Indeterminate genus and species of picopsid present in the Mussentuchit Member.

Mammals of the Cedar Mountain Formation
Genus Species Location Member Abundance Description Images

Ameribaatar

Ameribaatar zofiae

  • Mussentuchit
An unspecified multituberculate.

Astroconodon

Astroconodon delicatus

  • Mussentuchit
A predatory triconodont with a debate on whether it was fully terrestrial or semiaquatic.

Bryceomys

Bryceomys intermedius

  • Mussentuchit
An unspecified multituberculate, probably a cimolodont.

Cedaromys

Cedaromys bestia

  • Mussentuchit

Cedaromys parvus

  • Mussentuchit

Cifelliodon

Cifelliodon wahkermoosuch

  • Yellow Cat Member

a haramiyidan mammaliaform

Corviconodon

Corviconodon utahensis

  • Mussentuchit

Dakotadens

Dakotadens pertritus

  • Mussentuchit

Janumys

Janumys erebos

  • Mussentuchit

Jugulator

Jugulator amplissimus

  • Mussentuchit

Kokopellia

Kokopellia juddi

  • Mussentuchit

Possible metatherian

Paracimexomys

Paracimexomys perplexus

  • Mussentuchit

Paracimexomys robisoni

  • Mussentuchit

Spalacolestes

Spalacolestes cretulablatta

  • Mussentuchit

Spalacolestes inconcinnus

  • Mussentuchit

Spalacotheridium

Spalacotheridium noblei

  • Mussentuchit

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