Shawn Funk, a Canadian heavy equipment operator, has discovered a number of astonishing prehistoric finds in his mining career including petrified tree stumps and the fossilized remains of prehistoric plants. However, his discovery on the 21st of March 2011 put all of the rest of his discoveries in the shade. While digging into the earth in the windswept region of Alberta, Funk came across a veritable holy grail of paleontology.
Funk was digging in the earth when he came across something much harder than the surrounding rock. He and his supervisor, Mike Gratton noticed that they were digging into walnut brown rocks which they immediately suspected could have belonged to a prehistoric creature. As they examined the rocks, they realized that they were studded with sandy brown disks and decided to contact archaeologists.
Paleontologists and excavators from the Royal Tyrell Museum swiftly arrived on the scene where they immediately identified the fossil as belonging to a dinosaur. The carefully attempted to extract the dinosaur from the ground in exhausting twelve-hour shifts before removing it in fragments. The pieces of the dinosaur were transported to the museum where it was painstakingly put back together.
The researchers working at the museum immediately knew that they had discovered something incredibly special. Ordinarily when dinosaurs are discovered, only their bones and teeth and preserved, and the shape of the fossil is usually warped beyond recognition. For example, most of the dinosaurs that have been discovered in China has been squashed completely flat. However, this dinosaur has been perfectly preserved, including its skin. “We don’t just have a skeleton, ” said Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum, “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”
The fossilized remains of the dinosaur have caused quite the stir among paleontologists from all over the world who have been astonished at how perfectly preserved the specimen in. According to paleobiologist Jakob Vinther of the University of Bristol, the dinosaur is so pristine that it “might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago.” “I’ve never seen anything like this, ” he added.
Perhaps even more impressively, the dinosaur has been identified as a previously undiscovered form of ankylosaur called a nodosaur. Unlike ankylosaurs, nodosaurs didn’t have lethal tail clubs, but they did have thorny armor all over their body. It is estimated that they inhabited Canada between 110 million and 112 millions years ago during the mid-Cretaceous period. According to researchers, the dinosaur was certainly a herbivore.
This month, the Royal Tyrell Museum will allow the public to view their astonishing find for the first time. It will be the centerpiece of a new exhibition of fossils which have been recovered from industrial sites all over the state of Alberta.
Images: National Geographic