March 26, 2011

Canadian ‘Sands of Time’ Hold Dinosaur Bones

The bones of a dinosaur thought to be around 110 million years old were discovered Monday in the Canadian oil sands, a vast expanse of tar and sand being minded for crude oil.

An employee of Suncor Energy was credited with the discovery of the fossil in a place where there shouldn't be a fossil. Officials from the Royal Tyrrell Museum made it to the site to document the find. They believe the bones to belong to an ankylosaur.

Ankylosaurus was the best known of the armored dinosaurs. Its skin was covered in bony plates, and it had a clubbed tail useful for swinging and injuring predators. It roamed the Earth during the late Cretaceous Period and is now known from fossils found in Montana and Alberta.

Leanna Mohan of the Royal Tyrrell Museum said the discovery is important because almost the entire fossil was found "preserved very well."

Suncor Energy has temporarily suspended work at the mine until the fossil can be removed. "They thought it was a marine reptile which is what is normally found in the oil sands and it turns out it's an actual dinosaur," Mohan said.

"We've never found a dinosaur in this location," Donald Henderson, a curator at Alberta's Royal Tyrrell Museum, told Reuters on Friday. "Because the area was once a sea, most finds are invertebrates such as clams and ammonites."

The fossil is estimated to be about 16.5 feet long and 6.5 feet wide.

"It is pretty amazing that it survived in such good condition," said Henderson, noting the fossil was preserved in a three-dimensional setting, rather than flattened by the heavy rock sediment. "It is also the earliest complete dinosaur that we have from this province."

Coincidentally, or not, the same worker that found the fossil had also visited the Royal Tyrrell Museum in southern Alberta just a week before his amazing discovery.

Henderson suggested that the worker may have be "subconsciously prepared" to find a dinosaur.

"This was really like finding a needle in a haystack," said Suncor spokeswoman Lanette Lundquist.

The worker immediately stopped what he was doing and tracked down his supervisor. They both knew someone with a little more knowledge of the situation was definitely needed, hence a call to the Suncor staff geologist, who agreed they should notify the museum.

"They took some initial photos and information, and then forwarded it down to Tyrell and they thought it was significant enough they needed to get somebody up here the next day," Lundquist said.

"It's unexpected to find a dinosaur in this location because the formation was laid down in the sea and dinosaurs are land animals. As well, ankylosaurs are rare, so it looks like a great find," said Mohan.

The last giant reptile to be discovered in Alberta was an ichthyosaur around a decade ago.


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