The new Grounds for Discovery exhibit at the Royal Terrell Museum in Drumheller showcases incredible discoveries made by industry workers in Alberta.
Scientist and curator of dinosaurs at the museum, Dr. Donald Henderson, said that the most noteworthy part of the exhibit is the fact that scientists didn’t discover any of the specimens on display.
“They were unexpectedly uncovered during industrial work of all types,” Henderson said. “All of them would still be in the ground, patiently waiting to be discovered otherwise.”
Of the many fossils displays, Henderson is most excited about the exhibit’s centrepiece, an armoured dinosaur called a nodosaur.
“It is the best preserved armoured dinosaur in the world,” Henderson said.
According to plaques in the museum, the nodosaur was discovered by a mine shovel operator named Shawn Funk who was working at the Suncor Energy Millenium Mine north of Fort McMurray in March of 2011.
Funk noticed something different in the rock and, thinking that it might be a fossil, stopped work and called his supervisor.
In a joint effort between museum staff and Suncor employees, the rocks encasing the fossils were brought back to the museum after 17 days of work.
The nodosaur is noteworthy for several reasons, including that it is the oldest dinosaur discovered in Alberta, at 35 million years old.
Perhaps even more exciting, the dinosaur is so well preserved, that there is even remaining colour on the armour-like scales.
Henderson said that the story of the nodosaur is exceptional because so many unlikely events had to take place both in prehistory and in the more immediate past in order for the discovery to be possible.
“Shawn Funk had actually visited the museum a week before he ‘bumped’ into the Fort McMurray nodosaur with his giant shovel,” Henderson said.
The nodosaur made for such an impressive piece that the museum was originally intended to be it’s own exhibit.
Henderson said, “It was quickly realized that we have a lot of other exceptional fossils from other industries from all over the province.”
“The exhibit is a good way to say thank you to the people who were paying attention at their jobs, to let the public know of the fossils that they too can find, and to inform the public that all fossils are a protected resource in the province that need special care and attention,” Henderson said.
The idea that anyone could make a remarkable fossil discovery is one that Henderson heavily emphasized.
“We have never shut anybody down if they have fossils on their property or worksite.”
“We can be on the ground collecting a reported fossil a day or two after it is reported to us… It usually takes just a few days to get the specimen out, and in all cases I have been involved in, there was no stoppage in work,” Henderson said.
The Grounds for Discovery exhibit blew museum visitor Bradley Stein away.
“It’s incredible being able to see the past in this way,” said Stein. “You learn about it in school but to see it so tangibly is next to rapturous.”
Henderson went on to give advice to people if they think they have found a fossil.
“They should contact the Royal Tyrrell Museum immediately and supply a photograph and description of where the specimen is,” Henderson said.
He also urged that people not try to move the fossil themselves, cautioning that they may be heavy and are often very brittle.
“Think of them as being made of glass. It takes special techniques to get them out safely,” said Henderson.
The Royal Terrell Museum is located 6 km outside of Drumheller, which is 138 km northeast of Calgary in the “heart of the Canadian Badlands.”
Admission for children 6 and under is free.
For hours of operation, directions and information on admission prices for one or two day passes, please visit the Royal Terrell Museum website.