The scientific community is buzzing over the discovery of an excavator operator who, while working at energy company Suncor’s Millennium Mine in Alberta, Canada, dug up one of the most complete dinosaur fossils ever found.
According to a fascinating report from National Geographic, the fossil was found by Shawn Funk on March 21, 2011. After six years of work, paleontologists have finally to unveiled the prepared fossil. The magazine reports that while Funk had dug up his fair share of fossilized plants and trees, when his bucket clipped the fossilized remains of a nodosaur, he knew very quickly that he had found something special. Here’s how National Geographic describes the scene:
“Oddly colored lumps tumbled out of the till, sliding down onto the bank below. Within minutes Funk and his supervisor, Mike Gratton, began puzzling over the walnut brown rocks. Were they strips of fossilized wood, or were they ribs? And then they turned over one of the lumps and revealed a bizarre pattern: row after row of sandy brown disks, each ringed in gunmetal gray stone.
“Right away, Mike was like, ‘We gotta get this checked out,’ ” Funk said in a 2011 interview. “It was definitely nothing we had ever seen before.”
Dinosaur fossils typically require lots of work in their reassembly to make them resemble what they looked like when roaming the earth. Many are missing several key pieces of their skeletal structure and scientists are often forced to fill in the blanks in order to identify what they’re looking at.
But that wasn’t the case with this nodosaur, an 18-foot-long, 1.5 ton herbivore that lived between 110 million and 112 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. Here’s another excerpt from the National Geographic report:
“For paleontologists the dinosaur’s amazing level of fossilization—caused by its rapid undersea burial—is as rare as winning the lottery. Usually just the bones and teeth are preserved, and only rarely do minerals replace soft tissues before they rot away. …
Paleobiologist Jakob Vinther, an expert on animal coloration from the U.K.’s University of Bristol, has studied some of the world’s best fossils for signs of the pigment melanin. But after four days of working on this one—delicately scraping off samples smaller than flecks of grated Parmesan—even he is astounded. The dinosaur is so well preserved that it “might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago,” Vinther says. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” …
Reconstructing armor usually requires educated guesswork, as the bony plates, called osteoderms, scatter early in the decaying process. Not only did the osteoderms on this nodosaur preserve in place, but so did traces of the scales in between.
You can read the full report of Funk’s amazing discovery over at National Geographic.