Searching for dinosaurs in Alberta

I’m currently in Canada on a much needed trip home (I was last home a year ago), and I was fortunate enough to accompany the University of Alberta vertebrate palaeontology group down on some field work in southern Alberta. Since I didn’t get to do any field work in Europe this year, I thought it would be good to get my yearly bit in and check out the Dinosaur Park Formation.

For a week (and just 5 days in the field thanks to weather) I was working at a site near Duchess, Alberta. While it’s not in Dinosaur Provincial Park (DPP) proper, it was part of the Dinosaur Park Formation (DPF). Anyone who knows southern Alberta knows that any exposures of D

Our daily view from the quarry
Our daily view from the quarry

PF are likely to contain dinosaur fossils, and this was certainly the case. The site was discovered last year when PhD student Scott Persons was prospecting and came across an exposed nasal horn from a ceratopsian dinosaur. What ended up being found was a complete, pretty well preserved skull, as well as some postcranial remains. The specimen itself is pretty important because it lies in the middle of two different horned dinosaurs in terms of time and stratigraphic record – the older and more common Centrosaurus, and the younger and more rare Styracosaurus.

 

The skull and some articulated material was removed last year by helicopter, as the quarry lies down a steep canyon with no vehicular access (yes, we had to go up and down this every day with our equipment…) so our job was to look for what else was there. On one of the first days, a humerus was found, which was good news.

Making a plaster jacket for the humerus so we could safely remove it
Making a plaster jacket for the humerus so we could safely remove it.

Unfortunately, it seemed that the rest of the beast was hiding somewhere under the rock, so we then had to spend the rest of the time digging it out. This was not the easiest task since it’s sandstone mixed with layers of ironstone. A combination of pickaxing and jackhammering resulted in a lot of rock being removed… When I left, there was still probably a meter of rock above the specimen, but jackhammering was going well and would hopefully result in material soon coming out.

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Pickaxing at the beginning to increase the size of the quarry. So much rock to remove…
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My first ever attempt at jackhammering. It was too heavy and tall for me to lift!
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Rock moves a lot faster with a jackhammer! And means we get intermittent breaks 🙂

Although most of the dinosaur was still buried, we did find some bits and pieces. Several crocodile scutes and teeth, a few assorted dinosaur teeth, and some turtle shell to name a few. I also found part of a rib which was decently preserved, but we were waiting to see if there was anymore of it when I left. I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes out with this specimen! Hopefully it will answer some questions about the evolution of this group of dinosaurs.

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Dinosaur rib head
Small theropod tooth
Small theropod tooth
Crocodile scute
Crocodile scute

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On my way down to camp I got to make a pit-stop in Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park where I met Phil Currie and Eva Koppelhus so I could transport their van down to the field site while they got on canoes. I had some beautiful views of DPF from there, before continuing south. I also got to spend a single day in DPP on a day that was too wet to get down to our normal site. This was very exciting for me, even though we were jacketing specimens that had previously been found. Hopefully next time I can spend a bit more time in DPP!

View from the top of Dry Island. That exposure is mostly Dinosaur Park Formation
View from the top of Dry Island. That exposure is mostly Dinosaur Park Formation

 

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A moose crossing the Red Deer River in DPP

 

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DPP! One of the best places in the world for Late Cretaceous dinosaurs. They are everywhere…

I don’t have pictures of most of them, but we had a pretty good trip for wildlife. I saw 2 moose (one above), many pronghorns (each day on the way home from the site), a coyote, pheasants, and tons of ground squirrels. Including the one I ran over 😦 Sorry dude… All in all a great trip and I’m glad to be part of the crew, if only for a week. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to go again sometime for longer than a week! Thanks to the U of A crew and Scott Persons for putting up with me and making it possible 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Searching for dinosaurs in Alberta

  1. Amazing! Sounds like such an awesome experience. One day I’ll hope to also be out and about finding fossils in the best places. Thank you for sharing your experiences. 🙂

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