A Look Back: North Arlington Used to be a Neighborhood with Real Bite
By Office of Communication
Posted on September 05, 2018, September 05, 2018

Arlington Dinosaur

Photo Credit: Arlington Archosaur Site Facebook Page

Given enough time—say a few million years here and there—and every neighborhood changes. Sometimes it only takes a walk with an observant child to illustrate this phenomenon. And so it was on an unseasonably balmy January day in 2003 when Art Sahlstein took his 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, for a modest hike along the Trinity River in an as-yet-undeveloped section of northern Arlington.

Sahlstein calls such outings "prayer walks," but Olivia at that age tended to be more about being in touch with Mother Nature, which is why when she saw something strange in the earth. She ran to it.

"Olivia reached down and pulled a vertebra directly out of the ground," Sahlstein said. "She said, ‘This is a dinosaur bone."'

She was correct. Olivia Sahlstein was not the first person to see that the erosion along the creek area leading to the Trinity River less than a mile away revealed an unusual number of very odd-looking fossilized remains. Other area residents had also spotted similar clues that pointed to the area being something of a paleontological twilight zone. That's "twilight" because the discovery turned out to be the most important in this region in regard to finding rare fossils from the Mid-Cretaceous Period. The Mid-Cretaceous Period takes place before the more well-known Cretaceous era populated by the likes of Triceratops or T. Rex.

Think of that old Arlington neighborhood as it would have been 65-million to 95-million years ago: a Florida Keys-like ocean edge with mangrove trees along a swampy plain where fresh water emptied into the sea. Herbivorous dinosaurs—plant eaters—may have splashed in the shallows and muddy edges, taking care to avoid monstrous crocodiles. Turtles, sharks and lungfish swam in the water. It was a harsh world also populated by meat-eating therapods, another type of dinosaur.

Today the area is called Viridian, one of the city's newest and most popular mixed-use neighborhoods.

Multiple digs in the area since the early 2000s have produced more than 2,000 fossils, including some here-to-fore unknown species such as Deltasuchus motherali — a giant crocodile approaching 20 feet in length -big enough to chomp on dinosaurs and other creatures as they came close to the water's edge. Clearly, pre-historic Arlington was one tough neighborhood.

Because UT-Arlington doesn't have a paleontology department, the fossils -more than 2,000 items -were taken to the Perot Museum for further classification, study and storage.

In fact, the chief paleontologist for the Perot, Dr. Ronald Tykoski, will be delivery a talk about the discoveries in an upcoming February talk at the popular downtown lecture series Arlington on Tap, time and place to be announced.

This article was written by Arlington author and historian O.K. Carter, who serves on the Landmark Preservation Commission.

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