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Energy Industry helps build the Royal Tyrrell Museum’s collection

Last October workers uncovered a 10-metre dino fossil

Feb 19, 2014

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Illustration Kyle Metcalf

“Anywhere you dig a big enough hole in Alberta,” says Andrew Newman, executive director with the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, “you’ll find them.” Them, in this case, is dinosaur bones. And since the energy industry has dug many big holes, it has found … Well, that’s the thing: It has found but one (complete) dinosaur.

That dinosaur, Newman says, was an ankylosaurus, a tank-like, plant-eating dinosaur coated in armour and featuring a tail with a club on the end. “The one that was found up in the oil sands a few years ago was probably the best preserved specimen of its kind anywhere,” Newman says. Perhaps the best part of the story? The Suncor shovel operator who found it had visited the Tyrrell Museum just one week prior. “His search image, as we called it, was very tuned in to seeing something out of the ordinary.”

Dinosaur fossil discoveries are relatively well known to those who work amongst the exposed rocks of southern Alberta. The only reason they’re comparatively rare in northern Alberta, Newman explains, is the muskeg, earth and forest that covers them. But digging for bitumen or oil pipelines exposes them – as it did in October of last year, when workers installing an oil pipeline near Spirit River unearthed a 10-metre dino fossil.

It Ain’t All About Dinos
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The most common non-dino fossil finds in Alberta? The ichthyosaur (bottom left), mosauaur (top) and plesiosaur (right).

Less than a quarter of all fossils discovered in Alberta are dinosaurs. And with that ratio, there’s been one dinosaur and only about a dozen or so fossils found by the energy industry over the past 20 years, Newman says. “We do find invertebrate fossils quite regularly, which are the ones without backbones–things like large clams and ammonites, things like that. Only when they’re spectacular is that of interest to us.”

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