A miner in Canada, digging through earth, made an unexpected discovery that even scientists say is mind-boggling. Shawn Funk was digging at the Millennium Mine near Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, Canada, on March 21, 2011, when he hit something unusual: a dinosaur petrified from the nose to its hips so intact that it looked like a statue.
National Geographic reports that the nodosaur remains found by Funk in the Canadian mine would be deemed the most well-preserved dinosaur fossil ever found. The petrified dinosaur would have been approximately 18-feet long and 3,000 pounds when it roamed the earth. The fossil that remains is incredibly detailed with remnants of skin still covering the creature’s armor plates.
The nodosaur has been dubbed the “four-legged-tank” due to its unusual scaly armor that featured 20-inch spikes that extended from its shoulders. The spikes and armor plates were preserved by a rapid undersea burial which left scientists with an unprecedented look 110 million years into the past.
Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the Royal Tyrrell Museum where the remains are on display, notes that the skeleton is one-of-a-kind because of all the intricate details that were so expertly preserved due to its unique undersea burial.
“We don’t just have a skeleton. We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”
Prior to Funk making the nodosaur find, the most well-preserved dinosaur fossils were usually not true to shape as they would appear as though they had been squished flat. However, the nodosaur was left mostly intact with its shape very well preserved from the snout to the hips. This makes the fossil look more like a statue than a 110 million-year-old fossil.
Paleobiologist Jakob Vinther, from the University of Bristol, notes that he has “never seen anything like this” and that the fossil looks as though it “might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago” despite being over a hundred million years old. Scientists working to prepare the specimen for its debut at the Royal Tyrrell Museum spent over 7,000 hours preparing the fossil for research and public display.
Interestingly, the fossil is not only the most well-preserved dinosaur fossil ever found, but it is also an entirely new species and genus of nodosaur. Though the dinosaur looks frightening, it is described as being the modern-day rhinoceros of its time. The large nodosaur was a herbivore that used its frightening shoulder spikes to protect itself from unsuspecting predators.
While Canada is not currently known for its balmy beaches, back in the day of the nodosaur, Alberta’s climate would have been more similar to South Florida than the cold climate it is known for today. In fact, at the time that this nodosaur met his demise, it is believed that he may have been able to gaze out at an ocean as rising waters carved an inland seaway that covered much of modern-day Alberta.
Scientists are using the fossil to redefine what they know about the nodosaur, particularly the creature’s armor. With the specimen so well preserved, the guesswork was completely removed from a typically arduous process of reassembling the bony plates of the creature.
“Reconstructing armor usually requires educated guesswork, as the bony plates, called osteoderms, scatter early in the decaying process. Not only did the osteoderms on this nodosaur preserve in place, but so did traces of the scales in between.”
Additionally, scientists note that they are learning more about the keratin that covers the bony plates of the specimen. So much information about the nodosaur’s armor has been uncovered with this single specimen that Donald Henderson, curator of dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, says it is the “Rosetta stone” of armor.
“I’ve been calling this one the Rosetta stone for armor.”
What do you think of this impeccably preserved dinosaur fossil?
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