Toddler unearths dinosaur egg on camping trip

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) Don Shiffler didn’t think much about it when his 3-year-old son insisted that the thin, green rock he unearthed with his toy backhoe was a dinosaur egg.
Think again, Dad. Researchers say the “rock” young David Shiffler found is the oldest evidence of a meat-eating, egg-laying dinosaur.
The family was on their way home from a camping trip, having just seen “The Land Before Time,” a cartoon about a little dinosaur, and Shiffler said David had dinosaurs on his mind.
“Everything he picked up that day was a dinosaur egg,” said Shiffler. He put the fragment on a shelf in the family garage for nearly two months.
David kept telling his father that the quarter-sized fragment, which he dug up in October 1995 near Rio Puerco, west of Albuquerque, was important.
“I knew it was a dinosaur egg,” David, now 4, said last week during a news conference at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, where the fossilized piece of eggshell is now displayed.
After Dad gave in and took the piece to the museum, researchers there sent it to Emily Bray, a University of Colorado paleontologist. She determined that it was a one-of-a-kind find, which is changing scientists’ theories of when meat-eating, egg-laying dinosaurs first appeared.
The fragment, about 150 million years old, gives more evidence that meat-eating — or therapod — dinosaurs laid hard-shelled eggs during the upper Jurassic Period, Bray said.
It also could prove that dinosaur eggs from that era were hard-shelled, not leathery, advancing the theory that modern birds are descendants of dinosaurs.
Spencer Lucas, a paleontologist at the New Mexico museum, said the oldest meat-eating dinosaur egg previously found in North America came from the Cretaceous period, about 70 million years ago.
“If it’s from the Jurassic, then it’s definitely a first, so then it’s very important. It provides some tantalizing ideas,” said Kenneth Carpenter, a paleontologist at the Denver Museum of Natural History.
He said more evidence of therapod egg-laying needs to be found from the Jurassic Period. Most fossilized eggshells are from the late Cretaceous Period and are found in Mongolia and China, he said.
Fossilized eggshells are rare in the Southwest because the region was very wet during the time of the dinosaurs, and eggs usually don’t fossilize in such an environment.
David’s discovery now has scientists thinking that meat-eating dinosaurs laid eggs much earlier than previously thought, Bray said. Maybe even 170 million years ago.
“We just haven’t found the evidence yet,” she said.