Some paleontologists have spent careers tromping around many of the most inhospitable places on Earth seeking the elusive perfect dinosaur fossil.
Now a workman—a busy oil sands worker in Alberta, Canada—literally bumped into the momentous discovery: a perfectly fossilized ankylosaur (from the Greek words for “fused lizards”).
The 113 million year old fossil may be the oldest ever found in the Canadian province.
According to Suncor spokeswoman Lanette Lundquist, shovel operator Shawn Funk came upon objects that appeared as brownish discs protruding from the oil-rich rocks. At that moment he was in the process of excavating a small rise.
Following procedure, Funk shut down his equipment and immediately reported the find.
Lundquist told The Province News, “It was really like finding a needle in a haystack.”
Suncor shut down the work area and a supervisor snapped a series of photos. Per policy, the company rushed the photos to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller where they ended up in the hands of museum curator Don Henderson.
Thinking it was a marine animal, not an uncommon find in that region, Henderson traveled with a colleague to the site.
Once there, Henderson quickly discovered the fossil was no marine animal. “After about 10 minutes, we realized it was something different,” he told The Province News.
Most dinosaurs found in Alberta lived about 65 to 75 million years ago. The ankylosaur specimen is the oldest ever discovered.
Although a plant eater, the dinosaur was armor-plated with an array of bony spikes that helped protect it from meat-eating predators.
Some had lethal bony clubs at the tips of their tails. They used the club to fend off attacking carnivores.
The ankylosaur was probably the best armored of any of the dinosaurs. Before becoming extinct 65 million years ago, some actually had armored eyelids. Its closest relative was the ferocious stegosaur—both are called “thyreophoran” (“shield-bearing”) dinosaurs.
“This is a perfectly preserved three dimensional fossil. This is the earliest, most complete find in Alberta and might be the best one so far.”
Henderson said the creatures were normally about 16 feet long and over six feet wide.
“This was just a series of very unlikely events,” the curator said and he praised Funk for his alertness.
Because of the unusual area the dinosaur was found in and the rapidity that the animal became fossilized, the specimen may well be the best preserved in the world and is definitely the most complete.