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‘Dinosaur mummy’ emerges from the oil sands of Alberta


The animal probably died as it lived — defying predators with its heavy armor and size — and after 110 million years, its face remains frozen in a ferocious reptilian glare.

‘Dinosaur mummy’ emerges from the oil sands of Alberta
Nodosaur fossil discovered in Alberta bitumen pit in 2011, about 110-112 million years old 
[Credit: Robert Clark for National Geographic]
How the animal, a land-dwelling, plant-eating nodosaur, died is not known, but somehow its body ended up at the bottom of an ancient sea. Minerals kept the remains remarkably intact, gradually turning the body into a fossil. And when it was unearthed in 2011, scientists quickly realized that it was the best-preserved specimen of its kind.

‘Dinosaur mummy’ emerges from the oil sands of Alberta
Composite of 8 images showing the fossil from overhead view [Credit: Robert Clark for National Geographic]
‘Dinosaur mummy’ emerges from the oil sands of Alberta
Nodosaur's armour ridges [Credit: Robert Clark for National Geographic]
“It’s basically a dinosaur mummy — it really is exceptional,” said Don Brinkman, director of preservation and research at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. The dinosaur, with fossilized skin and gut contents intact, came from the Millennium Mine six years ago in the oil sands of northern Alberta, once a seabed.

‘Dinosaur mummy’ emerges from the oil sands of Alberta
Ripple through the stone traces right shoulder blade 
[Credit: Robert Clark for National Geographic]
‘Dinosaur mummy’ emerges from the oil sands of Alberta
Ribs in dark brown, osteoderms in light brown woven through with grey-blue stone 
[Credit: Robert Clark for National Geographic]
That sea was full of life, teeming with giant reptiles that grew as long as 60 feet, while its shores were traversed by massive dinosaurs for millions of years. The area has been coughing up fossils since the beginning of recorded time.

‘Dinosaur mummy’ emerges from the oil sands of Alberta
The right side of nodosaur's head [Credit: Robert Clark for National Geographic]
‘Dinosaur mummy’ emerges from the oil sands of Alberta
Nodosaur sees what you did there [Credit: Robert Clark for National Geographic]
“The shovel operator at the mine saw a block with a funny pattern and got in touch with a geologist,” Dr. Brinkman said. “We went up and collected it.” The fossil, photographed for the June issue of National Geographic, went on display on Friday.


Alberta law designates all fossils the property of the province, not of the owners of the land where they are found. Most are discovered after being exposed by erosion, but mining has also proved a boon to paleontologists.

‘Dinosaur mummy’ emerges from the oil sands of Alberta
Royal Tyrrell Museum technician Mark Mitchell frees foot and scaly footpad from surrounding rock 
[Credit: Robert Clark for National Geographic]
Dr. Brinkman said the museum was careful not to inhibit industrial activity when retrieving fossils so that excavators weren’t afraid to call when they found something. “These are specimens that would never be recovered otherwise,” Dr. Brinkman said. “We get two or three significant specimens each year.”

Author: Craig S. Smith | Source: The New York Times [May 15, 2017]
TANN

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