A historic discovery was made on March 21, 2011, at the Millennium Mine, Alberta, Canada. A miner unearthed a dinosaur with enough details intact to be termed a “dinosaur mummy”. It took five years and more than 7,000 hours to chisel out the dinosaur from its stone encasement. The dinosaur, called a “nodosaur”, is now on display in the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Canada.
On March 21, 2011, excavator Shawn Funk was digging in the Millennium Mine in Alberta, Canada when he discovered oddly colored lumps in the unearthed pile. When geologists were alerted and visited the site, they found dinosaur remains with the armor intact.
Shawn Funk, a heavy-equipment operator at the Millennium Mine, was working as usual on March 21, 2011. He was operating the excavator and was busy removing sand laced with bitumen. In his twelve years of digging, he had often stumbled across fossilized wood and an occasional petrified tree stump. But on that fateful afternoon, the excavator’s bucket clipped something much harder than the surrounding rock. He saw oddly colored lumps tumbling out of the hill, sliding down onto the bank below.
Funk and his supervisor, Mike Gratton, puzzled over the walnut brown rocks. When they turned over one of the lumps, it revealed row after row odd, sandy brown disks, each ringed in gunmetal gray stone. Discovery of dinosaur remains in the area was not a rare occurrence since the area was once a seabed. Funk immediately reported the find to a geologist.
After discovering the rock containing parts of a fossilized dinosaur, museum workers started working to free the dinosaur from its encasement and bring it to the museum. It took five years and more than 7,000 hours to unearth it and remove the debris to reveal the skin and armor of the dinosaur.
When word of the dinosaur reached the Royal Tyrell Museum, veteran technicians flew to Fort McMurray. Along with the mine excavators, the museum staff began chipping away the rock in twelve-hour shifts. During the work, they were covered in dust and diesel fumes. Eventually, they whittled it down to a 15,000-pound rock containing the dinosaur. It was now ready to be hoisted out of the pit. But, as it was lifted, the rock shattered, breaking the dinosaur into several chunks. The fossil’s partially mineralized, cake-like interior simply couldn’t support its own weight.
The next morning, the fossil fragments were wrapped in plaster of Paris and driven to the museum 420 miles away. In the museum’s prep lab, the blocks were entrusted to fossil preparator Mark Mitchell. For more than 7,000 hours over five years, Mitchell slowly exposed the fossil’s skin and bone.
The excavated dinosaur turned out to be the land-dwelling, never-before-seen species of nodosaur. It’s skin, armor and even gut content was found perfectly preserved, These are now providing invaluable clues about these extinct creatures.
According to researchers, the remarkable fossil is the oldest dinosaur ever found in Alberta. It is a never-before-seen species of nodosaur. The skin and gut contents were perfectly intact in the nine-foot-long fossil. Its skull is dotted with bumpy, armor plates and is covered with fossilized remnants of skin. The neck is gracefully curved to the left. The fossil remains only include the snout to the hips. The rest of the body had decayed long ago. Overall, this dinosaur is extremely well preserved. Even Donald Henderson, a curator of dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, once said: “I’ve been calling this one the Rosetta Stone of armored dinosaurs.”
The amazing fossilization of the dinosaur was caused by its rapid, undersea burial. The Millennium Mine was once a seabed teeming with life, and the shore alongside the sea was frequented by massive dinosaurs for millions of years.
According to paleobiologist, Jakob Vinther, an expert on animal coloration from the U.K.’s University of Bristol, the dinosaur is so well preserved that it “…might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago.”
Undersea burial of this dinosaur is the reason for its highly preserved state. Usually, just the bones and teeth are preserved, and only rarely do minerals replace soft tissues before they rot away. Paleontologists believe that the nodosaur lumbered across the landscape between 110 million and 112 million years ago, almost midway through the Cretaceous Period. The eighteen-foot-long, 3,000-pound herbivore somehow ended up dying in a river, possibly swept in by a flood.
Its carcass was kept afloat by gases from bacteria that filled its body cavity. Eventually, the carcass washed out into the seaway, and after a week or so the bloated carcass burst. The body then sank onto the ocean floor, kicking up the mud that engulfed it. Minerals infiltrated the skin and armor and covered its back. This ensured that the dead nodosaur would keep its true-to-life form even when earth kept piling on top of it.
The nodosaur “dinosaur mummy” has been unveiled to the public in the Royal Tyrrell Museum as part of an exhibit highlighting the importance of cooperation between extraction industries and paleontologists in uncovering fossils.
According to paleobiologist Jakob Vinther, the nodosaur fossil’s most revolutionary feature is the microscopic remnants of its original coloration. He intends to successfully reconstruct the color distribution. Using it, he could help reveal how the dinosaur navigated through its environment and used its prominent armor. Chemical tests of the dinosaur’s skin have hinted at the presence of dark reddish pigments which contrasts with the horns’ markedly light coloration.
The nodosaur had been unveiled this May in the Royal Tyrell Museum. It is now the centerpiece of a new exhibit of fossils recovered from Alberta’s industrial sites.