To the delight of paleontologists, dinosaur fossils regularly resurface around the world. But some discoveries are more exceptional than others. In Canada’s Dinosaur Provincial Park, a rare fossil of hadrosaurus, a 76-million-year-old herbivorous duck-billed dinosaur, has just been found.
Located in the province of Alberta, the Provincial Dinosaur Park is renowned for its abundance of fossil remains. According to Caleb Brown, curator of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, between 400 and 500 dinosaur skeletons or bones have appeared in recent decades, as well as many other vertebrate remains.
It was during a scouting mission conducted with students in 2021 that the discovery took place. While exploring the side of a hill, one of the volunteers, Teri Kaskie, saw a piece of fossil emerge from the surface. Upon inspection, she found that the bone was much larger and better preserved than anything she had seen so far.
When Dr Brian Pickles, Professor of Ecology at the University of Reading who accompanied the group, came to have a look, he was “completely amazed“.”I’ve never seen anything like it“, He confided to the site Live science. Further examination and early excavation revealed that the fragment was actually part of a hadrosaur’s tail.
A fossil with unique characteristics
Skeletons from this dinosaur family are not uncommon in this area. But the recently found fossil stood out for several outstanding features. First, its state of conservation. For the time being, only part of the tail and one foot have been released from the rock, but its position suggests that the skeleton may be complete or nearly complete.
Then his age. Based on the size of the tail and foot, paleontologists believe that the specimen is about four meters tall and therefore probably a juvenile. “Although duck-billed dinosaurs are well represented in the fossil record, younger animals are much less common“pointed out Dr. Pickles a The national team.
“This means that the discovery could help paleontologists understand how hadrosaurs grew and developed.Finally, and even more unexpectedly, portions of fossilized skin appeared on certain areas of the skeleton, suggesting that more skin could be found on the rest of the hadrosaur.
Finding a dinosaur fossil with a lot of skin is “quite rare“, Confirmed the specialist a CBC before deciphering the importance of such a peculiarity: “when you find the skin, or rather the internal organs, you can begin to see what these animals were like when they lived and breathed“.
During the Cretaceous period, between 66 and 145 million years ago, the region was traversed by a complex network of rivers running through the landscape. The presence of numerous fossils of aquatic species testifies to this. Dr. Pickles then suggests that the hadrosaur’s body found itself entangled in a mixture of sandstone and mud that would have allowed it to be preserved well.
“I think it got covered pretty quickly, otherwise it wouldn’t have been so well preserved“, She said Live science. “You can still see some of its vertebrae and tendons and as you get closer you can see its scales. The dark, scaly skin has a texture similar to that of a basketball. It is something very special“.
Several months of effort before collecting the entire fossil
It is only by cleaning up the entire fossil that paleontologists will be able to truly assess its condition and study its anatomy. The task, however, promises to be as long as it is complex given the size of the specimen and its position at the base of the hill. According to the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which is participating in the project, collecting the entire skeleton could take several months or even seasons.
“So far we have removed 112 tons of rock, what we call overburden, to reach the fossils“, detailed the scientist.”We think the [squelette] everything is there but we will not have any certainty until we have finished the excavation“, he confirmed. Under Alberta government legislation, all fossils discovered are owned by the province and cannot be sold.
Once completely cleaned up, the hadrosaur should then enter a laboratory of the Royal Tyrrell Museum located in Drumheller, where it will be prepared for study. The observations will allow in particular to evaluate the exact degree of completeness of the skeleton, its conservation and perhaps to determine its species. Finally, it will become part of the museum’s permanent collection.
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