The World’s Best Preserved Dinosaur
Author: Ashijfa Kassam
Source: The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/may/15/alberta-canada-museum-unveils-best-preserved-armoured-dinosaur-in-the-world-nodosaur#img-1)
It has been compared to a dinosaur mummy, a lifelike sculpture and even a dragon from Game of Thrones.
Now, 110 million years after it died, the 18ft-long nodosaur – hailed as the best-preserved armoured dinosaur in the world – has been unveiled at a Canadian museum.
“Normally when we find dinosaur fossils we just have a skeleton, the bones. And we have to use our imaginations to reconstruct what they look like,” said Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.
“In this case, we’re very lucky in that it’s not just the bones; we have all of the armour, the osteoderm is preserved, we also have all the skin preserved and it is in three dimensions.”
The result offers a glimpse of the dinosaur exactly as it might have been millions of years ago – a behemoth herbivore dotted with protective half-metre spikes, its skeleton encased in body armour and fossilised skin.
Researchers point to the sea to explain the state of the fossil. It’s believed that the nodosaur was carried out to sea after being swept away by a flood. As it sank, it likely created an impact crater and was rapidly covered by sediment, said Brown. “Because it was buried so quickly, nothing was able to scavenge the animal and it wasn’t able to decompose very much before it actually got fossilised.”
Millions of years later, the fossil was found in Alberta’s tar sands. In 2011, a heavy-equipment operator was digging through a tar sands mine when he noted that some of the rock had an odd colour and pattern, said Brown.
What he had stumbled upon was the petrified front half – from the snout to the hips – of a 3,000-pound nodosaur. Soon after, technicians painstakingly transported the multi-tonne chunk of rock encasing the fossil 420 miles south to the museum.
Some six years later, and after more than 7,000 hours spent meticulously chipping away at the rock to unearth the skin of the dinosaur, the nodosaur made its public debut last Friday as part of a new gallery showcasing fossils unearthed by industrial activities across the province.
The nodosaur now offers a tantalising window into the past, allowing for studies that range from exploring the texture of its skin to the growth and placement of its protective spikes, said Brown. “There’s a lot that we can learn from this fossil.”