Suncor employees made palaeontological history the other day when they turned up the almost intact remains of an ankylosaur, one of the Jurassic Era’s most famous dinosaurs and the oldest dinosaur bones ever found in Alberta.
When it roamed this land some 110 million years ago, the reptile was 20 to 30 feet long and weighed in at an awesome six tonnes – that’s 50% more than one of today’s African elephants.
The ankylosaur is most celebrated for its bony armour and a massive bony club at the end of its tail. A full blow from this club, which was probably used for self-defense as ankylosaurs were vegetarian, would have easily broken your leg.
Our workers found the dinosaur while excavating near Fort McMurray. They noticed a large lump of dirt with an odd texture and diamond patterns, quite unlike the usual oil sands clay. Following established practice, work was halted while photos were sent to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Tyrrell sent a scientist and technician by plane a few days later. Apparently they were stunned by what they saw.
“We’ve never found a dinosaur in this location,” said Dr. Donald Henderson, curator of dinosaurs at the Royal Tyrrell Museum. “Because the area was once a sea, most finds are invertebrates such as clams and ammonites. Marine reptiles have been found in the area before, but even these are not common. The last giant reptile removed from this area was an ichthyosaur found 10 years ago. To find an ankylosaur is totally unexpected here – finding one of these animals anywhere is a rare occurrence.”
Royal Tyrrell scientists are returning to Fort McMurray to supervise the specimen’s removal to the Museum for further study.
The Royal Tyrrell has gone on record thanking Suncor and our staff for recognizing the fossil and reporting it so quickly. “This is a great example of a company calling to report a find and it turning out to be something of potentially major significance,” Andrew Neuman, its executive director, told the media.
Our handling of the situation also earned praise from four-year-old Zachary Sholter, whose letter in the Edmonton Journal noted that “dinosaurs are important and interesting” and thanked Suncor operator Shawn Funk “for putting on the brakes when you saw the dinosaur fossils.”
We’re proud too of our contribution in helping preserve irreplaceable fossil resources. For without oil sands mining, this particular ankylosaur, and other specimens like it buried far underground, would not be seen in any of our lifetimes.
Royal Tyrrell Museum paleontologist Don Henderson inspects a spine and rib section of the ankylosaurus fossil discovered in Suncor's oil sands mine north of Fort McMurray.