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Discovery of 90-million-year-old turtle fossil reveals a new species

February 14, 2023

Turtles have been on Earth for about 260 million years, making them older than dinosaurs. They can live almost anywhere and scientists can learn a lot about the environments they thrived in and the water quality of those environments, according to Arizona State University PhD student Brenton Adrian.

Brenton Adrian PhD Student

Brenton Adrian, evolutionary anthropology PhD student

As part of a project before coming to ASU, Brent identified a very old turtle fossil that was in storage at the Arizona Museum of Natural History

The new fossil species of Cretaceous baenid (extinct turtle) was discovered in the Moreno Hill Formation in the Zuni Basin of western New Mexico, Adrian said. The fossil was discovered in the late 1990s during an expedition led by Doug Wolfe, with the Arizona Museum of Natural History, James Kirkland and volunteers with the Southwest Paleontological Society.

The fossil is about 90 million years old and the turtle lived in an interval of time during the Cretaceous period called the Turonian.

The new species is called Edowa zuniensis. The genus name “Edowa'' is the word for “turtle” in the language of the Zuni Indigenous peoples of western New Mexico and eastern Arizona, and the species name “zuniensis” refers to the Zuni Basin, where the species lived, Adrian explained. 

“Edowa would have lived among Zuni Basin dinosaurs, including the tyrannosauroid Suskityrannus, the ceratopsian Zuniceratops and the therizinosaur Nothronychus,” said Adrian, who studies evolutionary anthropology at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and is affiliated with the Institute of Human Origins

“The new species fills an enormous gap in our understanding of the evolution of this native group of turtles, and shows that advanced traits evolved significantly earlier and in a wider distribution than previously expected,” he said.

Turtle fossil

Photo of the type specimen of the fossil itself, showing the preserved turtle's plastron (bottom part of the shell). Photo courtesy Cretaceous Research

The fossil is also remarkable because most of both the top and the bottom part of the shell was found. Adrian explained that turtle shells are made of bone, and the baenid turtle's shell is fused and does not have sutures.  

The team was also able to determine this particular turtle was attacked by a crocodile at some point and infected by ectoparasites based on trace fossils on the turtle's shell.

“Turtles are a group that give us a particular insight into the environment at the time,” Adrian said. “Whereas with, for example, a T. rex fossil, we know that they only ate meat and large quantities of it. But with a turtle, they occupied every habitat that reptiles are able to fill for a very long time. So we know how they operate in ecosystems.” 

Brent is currently a first-year PhD student and is studying predator-prey dynamics at fossil hominin sites in eastern Africa. 

The article, “A new baenid, Edowa zuniensis gen. et sp. nov., and other fossil turtles from the Upper Cretaceous Moreno Hill Formation (Turonian), New Mexico, USA,” was published in Cretaceous Research. 

"The specimens were collected on federal lands under a permit from the Bureau of Land Management. These lands are also recognized as the traditional homelands of the Shiwinna (Zuni), Diné Bikéyah and Pueblo peoples,” the research team acknowledged in a press release. 

Top photo: Reconstruction of the new species Edowa zuniensis. Illustration by Brenton Adrian

Nicole Pomerantz

Communications specialist , School of Human Evolution and Social Change


Local artist, ASU alum to showcase Scandinavian paintings at ASU Gammage

Series of paintings will be on display until March 6

February 14, 2023

Scottsdale artist Jana Peterson grew up surrounded by the language and heritage of Norway.

Primarily of Norwegian descent, Peterson was born in Northfield, Minnesota, which has a large and active Norwegian community. After visiting Norway for the first time when she was 21 and finally meeting many of her extended family members, Peterson felt a deeper connection to her heritage and the beautiful sites in the country. Jana Peterson stands next to her painting, "Weisman Art Museum." Scottsdale artist Jana Peterson stands next to her painting "Weisman Art Museum." Photo courtesy Jana Peterson Download Full Image

All of that has influenced her latest series of paintings, which includes colorful sceneries that showcase the water, landscapes and skies she saw on her travels. The series will be on display at ASU Gammage during the February run of the Broadway musical tour of "Frozen," which takes place in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle, based on multiple locations in Norway.

“It’s always exciting getting to show off your hard work, and when you’re having this huge Broadway show at the same time that takes place somewhere inspired by the same place these paintings are, it’s really special,” Peterson said.

Peterson started painting over 40 years ago and has since developed her portfolio and style across multiple mediums, including sculpture, murals and jewelry-making.

Art and culture have always been deeply embedded in her life, and Peterson’s family has been a great influence in creating an environment that lets her passion and creativity flourish. Her mother was an art teacher, and her father is a professor emeritus of architectural design at Arizona State University, where he was a professor of architecture for 35 years.

Coming from a family of artists, Peterson was highly encouraged and pushed to fully embrace her capacity for creativity. This started with her love of ballet at the age of 5, and as she approached her college years, she picked up painting and fell in love.

Peterson received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance and an associate degree in interior design before coming to ASU, where she obtained a master’s degree in art education and followed in her mother’s footsteps as an art teacher for over 30 years.

This is not the first nor the second time that Peterson has showcased her art at ASU Gammage. In June of 2022, Peterson displayed a colorful series of landscapes and architectural paintings alongside paintings done by her father, and before that, she first had her art shown in ASU Gammage during the '80s.

Her paintings are vibrant and range from highly detailed scenes in nature to pieces that exemplify color explosion expressionism.

‘’I am a colorist and I love using a lot of bright fun colors in my work, a lot of which is architectural as well,” Peterson said. “My work is primarily happy, cheerful and bright. I want people to see my art and get their socks knocked off. It’s really in-your-face kind of work.”

Peterson’s Scandinavian paintings will be on display at ASU Gammage until March 6.

Emily Mai

Marketing and Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage