A comprehensive taphonomic analysis has yielded a novel interpretation for one of the most famous dinosaur quarries in the world. The Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry (CLDQ) traditionally has been interpreted as an attritional predator trap. This scenario is based largely on a remarkable 3:1 predator:prey ratio, dominated by the remains of the theropod Allosaurus fragilis. This study addresses the taphonomy of CLDQ by combining analyses of fossils and entombing sediments along with putative modern analogues.
Thousands of bones have been excavated from CLDQ, representing at least 70 individual dinosaurs from a minimum of nine genera. The fossils occur in a 1-m-thick fine-grained calcareous mudstone interpreted as a floodplain ephemeral-pond deposit. The bones show minimal carnivore modification and surface weathering, whereas approximately 1/3 of the elements studied possess pre-depositional fractures and evidence of abrasion. The vast majority of elements are found horizontal to subhorizontal, without a preferred long-axis orientation. The demographic profile of the CLDQ dinosaur assemblage appears to be highly skewed toward subadult individuals.
Numerous lines of evidence question the traditional predator-trap hypothesis. Of the alternatives, catastrophic drought appears to be most consistent with available data. Evidence includes a large assemblage of animals in a low-energy ephemeral-pond depositional setting and geologic and biologic evidence of desiccation. Additional support comes from modern drought analogues that frequently result in mass-death assemblages of large vertebrates. Climatic interpretations during Late Jurassic times are consistent with a semiarid environment characterized by periodic drought conditions.