Dinosaur bones discovered in oilsands

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Dinosaur bones believed to be about 110 million years old were discovered Monday at a Suncor Energy mine, about 50 km north of the city.

Officials from the Royal Tyrrell Museum have already been on the site to document the find. The believe the bones belong to an ankylosaur.

To put the discovery into perspective, the dinosaurs remains found in Dinosaur Provincial Park date back about 75 million years.

Ankylosaurus was the best known of the armoured dinosaurs and the last and largest of the ankylosaurids. Its tough skin was covered with bony plates, and it could swing its clubbed tail to injure predators. This dinosaur — roaming the Earth in the late Cretaceous period — is known from fossils found in Montana and Alberta.

According to Leanna Mohan of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, the discovery is significant because almost the entire fossil has been “preserved very well.”

Museum experts flew up to the site Tuesday night to verify the discovery. Work in the mine has been temporarily suspended until the fossil is removed.

“They thought it was a marine reptile which is what is normally found in the oilsands and it turns out it's an actual dinosaur,” Mohan said.

She speculated the armoured dinosaur could have been swept out to sea and then sank to the bottom where it was preserved.

A shovel operator made the discovery when he noticed “something different" in the wall he was digging at with the shovel, explained Suncor spokeswoman Lanette Lundquist. “This was really like finding a needle in a haystack.”

The operator immediately stopped work and sought out his supervisor. They both realized they needed to call in someone with more expertise, hence the call to the Suncor staff geologist, who also agreed they should call 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,” said Lundquist.

“The scientists were very excited to discover that this was, in fact, a dinosaur,” added Mohan. “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.”

Museum personnel will be returning to Suncor next week to supervise the archaeology excavation.

“They're going to work with Suncor to get it out of the ground safely and transport it back here,” said Mohan.

The last giant reptile that was found here was an ichthyosaur about 10 years ago.

For more information related to dinosaurs, visit rareresource.com.


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