The Amazing Sleeping Dragon of Alberta

 The Amazing Sleeping Dragon of Alberta

If you are planning a trip to Alberta this summer, you just might want to stop by and see a new exhibit at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada. Officials there are proudly displaying a centerpiece that will amaze everyone from eight to eighty. The exhibit revolves around a newly unveiled 110 million-year-old fossil, which has been described as “the best preserved armored dinosaur ever found.”

The creature was discovered by a machine operator named Shawn Funk, who works at a mine near Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada in 2011. So perfect were the remains preserved, that it is providing researchers with invaluable information about the recently discovered species. Scientists say it is almost like having a living animal there to study.

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After the initial discovery, additional investigation of the fossilized remains revealed that the extraordinary animal was in fact a totally new species of plant-eating ‘nodosaur.’ Researchers say the creature is so remarkably well preserved because its remains ended up in a river and it was possibly swept up by a flood, shortly after it died. They theorize that then the carcass was carried out to sea where it sank to the ocean floor, becoming enveloped in mud which both preserved and petrified the nodosaur’s remains, giving the fossil the appearance of a sleeping dragon.

This is usually not the case. Most times, just a dinosaur’s bones and teeth survive the process ending up in jumbled pile of bones. Those remains are then covered with dirt, and over the melinia as tehy to rot away the hollows left by them are filled in by minerals. It is these “rock models” of the oridginal bones that we find and use to study the animals. However, in this case because of its quick burial, intricate details of the nodosaur’s scale armor were preserved like pouring plaster into a mold and creating an exact copy of the creature.

As a result, the fossil has revealed valuable details to researchers about the makeup of the animal’s armor. For researchers, finding the fossil was like winning the lottery. Jakob Vinther, a Paleobiologist from University of Bristol, said that it’s so well preserved it “might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago…I’ve never seen anything like this.”

If you happen to be in the area, I recommend you check it out. The museum has even set up a viewing gallery where the public can watch the careful restoration of the nodosaur. The new fossil now forms the centerpiece of a exhibit focusing on fossil finds in the province of Alberta.

The job of preserving the fossil fell to museum technician Mark Mitchell, who worked on the nodosaur for more than 7,000 hours over five years to painstakingly expose the fossil’s skin and bone. “You almost have to fight for every millimeter,” he said.

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R.L. Grimes

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