The Saints & Sinners Quarry preserves the only known vertebrate body fossils in the Nugget Sandstone and the most diverse fauna known from the Nugget-Navajo-Aztec erg system. The fauna includes eight genera and >18,000 bone and bone fragments assignable to >76 individuals, including theropods, sphenosuchians, sphenodontians, drepanosaurs, procolophonids, and a dimorphodontid pterosaur. Cycadeoid fronds are the only plant fossils. There are two depositional environments at the site – dune and interdune, each consisting of two or more faces. The dune facies are (1) Trough Cross-Stratified Sandstone (TCS) representing dry dunes, and (2) Massive and Bioturbated Dunes (MBD) representing bioturbated, damp dunes. The interdune facies are (1) Wavy Sandstone (WSS) representing wet and damp flats with biofilms and tridactyl tracks, (2) Green Clays and Silts (GCS) representing quiet lacustrine waters, (3) Planar Laminated Sandstone (PLS) representing lacustrine dust and sand storm deposits which grade laterally into (4) Massive Bone Bed (MBB) shoreline deposits. The vertical and lateral relationships of the dune and interdune facies suggests that an interdune flat developed (WSS facies) likely by deflation of dunes down to, or near to, the water table. As the water table rose, a shallow lake developed (GCS facies) and trapped wind-blown sediment during sand storms (PLS Facies). The taxonomically diverse vertebrate fauna suggest a mass die-off occurred, likely due to drought. The carcasses and bones were buried by three distinct depositional events, each a bone bed (MBB facies) - separated by very thin clays (GCS facies). Thereafter the water table dropped resulting in several cm-scale sandstone beds with tridactyl tracks (WSS facies). Then migrating dunes buried the interdune flat. These dunes hosted burrowing invertebrates for a moderate time resulting in the destruction of nearly all primary sedimentary structures (MBD facies). Ultimately, as the area dried further, more dunes migrated over these bioturbated surfaces and the area returned to dune field conditions (TCS facies). The Saints & Sinners site indicates that a previously unrecognized, remarkably diverse vertebrate fauna thrived in wet interdunes of western North America's Late Triassic erg system. A massive-die-off, likely due to a drought, provided a wealth of carcasses and their bones. The dynamic shoreline representing the interface of dunes and standing water provided favorable conditions for rapid burial of small carcasses and the disarticulated bones of larger individuals.



College and Department

Physical and Mathematical Sciences; Geological Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





Interdune, Eolian, Facies Analysis, Depositional Environments, Nugget Sandstone



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Geology Commons