What a wonderful job must be to be a paleontologist, don’t you think? I mean, who doesn’t love dinosaurs? After all, those magnificent lizards that once ruled Earth are definitely one of, if not the most iconic mysteries of our planet.
Since centuries ago, paleontologists have been digging up looking for dinosaur bones. To do so, paleontologists have an accurate system that begins with the operation called prospecting, which summarized is as when the paleontologists spot a site and carefully dig it to look for a dinosaur bone or other fossils.
As a matter of fact, the first dinosaur fossil to be scientifically described and named was the Megalosaurus in 1824. Paleontologists are used to finding fragments of dinosaur fossils, which they have to carefully prepare, transport, and study in a lab.
Dinosaur fossils are so fragile that one wrong move could result in the complete loss of the discovery. This is why Paleontology is a very gentle science. But what happens when the fossil is in such a perfect condition that it actually shows the whole dinosaur structure? Well, this is what happened to the team of miners in Canada who tripped on a perfectly preserved dinosaur fossil…
The “Accidental” Discovery
Imagine the following scenario: you’re a miner going to your regular work on a Monday afternoon. You start carving earth, as you usually do every day. Suddenly, your equipment hits something. “A rock, maybe?”, you might think…
This is what happened to heavy-equipment operator Shawn Funk on the afternoon of 21 March 2011. Shawn had been working at the Millennium Mine, a pit of approximately 17 miles located in Fort McMurray, Canada. What he didn’t know was that day he became the founder of the most perfectly preserved dinosaur fossil ever.
“It was definitely nothing we had ever seen before”, Shawn said in an interview with National Geographic.
As aforementioned, dinosaur fossils ain’t easy to find. Even the smaller fragments are hard. This is why scientists are so thrilled when they find something, no matter how small. So imagine when they find a complete skeleton or bone. Mind-blowing, indeed.
But this fossil was something special. This fossil had remains of fossilized skin, not only the bones. “We don’t just have a skeleton… We have a dinosaur as it would have been”, said Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher, and leader of the investigation at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, where the fossil was being processed.
The fossil belongs to the species Borealopelta Markmitchelli, a genus of nodosaurid ankylosaur from the Lower Cretaceous. This nodosaur walked the planet about 110 million years ago. The fossil weighs 1.3 tons and it’s 18 ft (5.5 meters) long.
This fossil made it possible for scientists to recreate what nodosaurs looked like. Actually, every dinosaur recreation we have today is thanks to the paleontological assembling from a bone or any other fossil.
We know how they look, how they walked, if they were earth, water, or flying dinosaurs… What they ate. Nodosaurs, for example, were herbivorous. They had a big strong shell that was used as armor to protect them from predators. So far, scientists don’t have any suspicion that nodosaurs could have been feathered like the ones found in China, for example.
It makes you wonder, what else could be lying underneath our feet, right?