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'Truly exceptional': From the oilsands emerges the best-preserved armoured dinosaur ever found

Scientists at the Royal Tyrrell Museum unveil the monumental discovery

The centrepiece of the new Royal Tyrrell Museum exhibit, Grounds for Discovery, is a new species of dinosaur discovered at the Suncor Millennium Mine near Fort McMurray in 2011.

Submitted / Government of Alberta

The centrepiece of the new Royal Tyrrell Museum exhibit, Grounds for Discovery, is a new species of dinosaur discovered at the Suncor Millennium Mine near Fort McMurray in 2011.

Digging through the earth six years ago, an oil sands miner working north of Fort McMurray struck it big—except it wasn’t oil he hit, but a dinosaur.

Little did he know, he’d just unearthed one of the most significant dinosaur finds, ever.

“It’s been worth the wait,” said Donald Henderson, the curator for the Royal Tyrrell Museum, during an announcement Friday for the first-ever unveiling of the 112-million-year old armoured dinosaur, known as a nodosaur.  

“It’s the best-preserved armoured dinosaur in the world.”

The nodosaur had been so well kept that pieces of its skin, its armour, and stomach content are preserved.

“It’s truly exceptional,” Henderson said, noting the fossil is three-dimensional, a rare treat because most specimens are usually flattened.

The nodosaur is so well preserved that it still has pieces of its skin intact.

Courtesy / Governmnet of Alberta

The nodosaur is so well preserved that it still has pieces of its skin intact.

He said the fossil’s near-pristine condition was caused by its quick burial undersea millions of years ago, when Alberta was home to a subtropical climate with lush forests and rivers flowing into a warm inland sea.

Prior to its death, the nearly 3,000-pound, 18-foot long herbivore grazed the lands much like a rhino. Scientists plan to study its armour to deepen their understanding of what the species looked like and how they moved.

But what’s more remarkable, according to Henderson, is the fact that it had been discovered in the first place.

He said miners at the Suncor Millennium Mine near Fort McMurray had shifted 1.3 billion cubic metres of rock from the site over a span of 20 years, without finding a single significant fossil.

That's until they came across the nodosaur.  

“You could squeeze this thing into a cubic metre,” he said. “So this is really a one-in-a-billion find.”

Andrew Neuman, executive director with the Tyrrell, said the discovery highlights an important partnership scientists have with industry workers, as crews excavate thousands of cubic metres of earth every year.

"Staff at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and our colleagues at the Royal Alberta Museum have been working for several decades to educate industry on the importance of preserving and protecting fossils uncovered by industrial activities,” he said.

He said research on the nodosaur was supported through the National Geographic Society, which will be featured in the publication’s June 2017 edition.

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