I was at the Virginia Living Museum again this week and stopped to look at the Dinosaur With No Name. It’s a colorful, life-sized dinosaur that seems to leap at the visitors viewing it, just missing them with a snap of its sharp-toothed jaws. The sculpture is a representation, as faithful as the artist could render it, of one of Virginia’s dinosaurs from the late Triassic Period.
If you’re wondering how many dinosaur bones have been found in Virginia, the answer as of this writing is none. But we know that dinosaurs once were here because they left tracks. Thousands of tracks were discovered at a quarry in Stevensburg, Virginia and they are the basis for the sculpture. A set of them is displayed next to the Dinosaur With No Name, a petrified record of large, three-toed feet squishing through the Mesozoic mud.
But what exactly made the tracks? A visitor casually acquainted with dinosaurs of the late Triassic might look at the sculpture and think Coelophysis. At least I did. But it isn’t, quite. The Stevensburg tracks have a name, two of them in fact. They have been identified as Kayentapus, after similar tracks found in Utah’s Kayenta formation, and also as Eubrontes, after similar tracks found in Connecticut. What the right name is depends on who you ask.
So wouldn’t the dinosaur be either Kayentapus or Eubrontes? Well, no. The tracks are the actual fossil and the name belongs to them. We don’t have any material from the dinosaur that made them so there’s nothing to name. Except the sculpture. Keith Strasser, the artist who made it, named it Syntarsus after a dinosaur similar to Coelophysis. However, the VLM docent notes say that this name is no longer scientifically valid. It seems the name was already taken by a beetle. So, the museum’s dinosaur model is officially nameless, but visitors may feel free to invent one.