Unique Fossil Found while mining in Alberta #FossilFriday
Today’s #FossilFriday is brought to you by Shaena Montanari, a paleontologist and science communicator who originally wrote this article via Forbes.
Paleontologists aren’t the only ones who find fossils these days. In fact, sometimes it’s those who have access to the big equipment who have better luck uncovering some of the most jaw-dropping specimens.
It took 12 years of digging, but in 2011, a heavy-equipment operator named Shawn Funk who works for the Canadian energy company Suncor accidentally struck one of the finest examples of a dinosaur fossil ever discovered. The Millennium Mine in Alberta is operated by Suncor for the purpose of mining sand that can be used for energy production; the rock in the mine represents a 110-million-year-old oceanic environment, which is definitely not one that typically contains dinosaur fossils.
A nodosaur was a large, lumbering herbivorous dinosaur that was robustly armored. Nodosaurs are related to ankylosaurs, another bulky plant-eater, except nodosaurs don’t have the trademark tail clubs. Even though they did not have tail clubs, they had spectacular armor that is preserved in this specimen with a level of perfection that almost defies explanation. This fossil is truly unique because rather than just a skeleton, most of what is preserved is its petrified body—a truly rare occurrence in the world of paleontology.
In life, this creature was nearly 20 feet long and 1.5 tons. When it died, it quietly floated out to sea and subsequently drifted to the ocean floor where it was quickly entombed, preserved in a state of suspended animation for over 100 million years. Now, the front half of its body is preserved as an even heavier slab of rock with unbelievably detailed features that have been revealed after over 7,000 hours of laborious preparation work.
The yet-to-be-named new species of nodosaur is on display in the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta in a special exhibit for fossils that have been found accidentally during construction or mining projects. The nodosaur is not the only amazing fossil on display, as there are also early mammals and skulls of marine reptiles, but this once-in-a-lifetime find is sure to capture the most attention.