Cornelius says hello

Updated on July 8, 2015! 

“Cornelius” now has a scientific name – Wendiceratops pinhornensis!

You can read the open access paper here:

Evans DC, Ryan MJ. 2015. Cranial anatomy of Wendiceratops pinhornensis gen. et sp. nov., a cnetrosaurine ceratopsid (Dinosauria: Ornithischia) from the Oldman Formation (Campanian), Alberta, Canada, and the evolution of ceratopsid nasal ornamentation. PLOS ONE 10:e0130007.

Say hello to Cornelius! I got to meet him during a brief visit to the ROM last week, and he seems like a pretty nice guy.

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What’s up at Wapiti River?

The world can always use some more Pachyrhinosaurus bonebeds. So hooray to my friends and colleagues Federico Fanti and Mike Burns, and my PhD supervisor Phil Currie, for publishing a description of the Wapiti River Pachyrhinosaurus bonebed (currently in ‘early view’ accepted manuscript form at the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences).

A friendly Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai greets students at Grande Prairie Regional College!

 Most of the time, dinosaur palaeontologists look for bones in dry, barren landscapes – the badlands of Alberta, the Gobi Desert, etc – places that have lots of rocks and not much covering them up, like inconvenient forests or cities. But sometimes, you don’t have vast expanses of outcrop. In Nova Scotia, we dig up dinosaurs on the beach. In the area around Grande Prairie, Alberta, you look for bones in the outcrops along rivers and streams.

The very first summer I went out with the University of Alberta crew (way back in the halcyon days of 2007; the first Transformers movie was ‘good’, everybody read the last Harry Potter book overnight to avoid spoilers, and…apparently not much was happening in my musical spheres, but my, how time has flown), there wasn’t a Wapiti River bonebed. We knew that there were bones coming out of the riverbank somewhere, but it took the better part of a day to trace them up the hill to the bone layer. 

See if you can spot Phil for scale way up on the hill there, and remember that Phil is about 3x as tall as most humans. That’s where the bone layer is!

It’s a pretty steep hill, and so those first few days excavating the bone layer meant hacking out little footholds and gradually making enough of a ledge for us to sit on and walk around each other without plummeting to our death.

The last time I was there, in 2011, the ledge had expanded significantly, although you can see it’s still a pretty narrow slice! It’s a scenic place to work, with the river and boreal forest stretching away below; bear sightings were not uncommon (and occassionally closer than we’d all prefer), and I remember a hummingbird came down to check on us one day, buzzing around my head for a few moments!

In this bonebed, there’s a layer of bones in a crazy, mixed-up layer of folded mudstones, and those are pretty easy to excavate. 

Here’s a dorsal vertebra. Nice and easy.

But down beneath that, the skulls and larger bones are encased within super hard ironstones. We can’t really do much with these in the field, so we need to take them out in huge pieces. 

And here’s what the skulls look like. The circular depression down towards my left foot is the narial opening. The UALVP has like 15 of these suckers and they each take about 2 years to prepare with a crack hammer and chisel.

But the bonebed is also about halfway down into the river valley on a steep slope that’s hard enough to just haul yourself up, let alone a huge boulder. So we’ve been very lucky to have helicopter support to carry out some of the heaviest pieces at the end of each field season.

Up, up and away!

 Sometimes we were even visited by Aluk the Pachyrhinosaurus, mascot of the Arctic Winter Games in 2009!

This was probably the strangest day in the field.

 There’s still much more work to be done on this bonebed – we still aren’t exactly sure what species of Pachyrhinosaurus is present. The age is right for P. canadensis, but only time will tell. And with two Pachyrhinosaurus bonebeds in Grande Prairie – the Pipestone Creek bonebed with P. lakustai, and the slightly younger Wapiti River bonebed – there’s bound to be much more to learn about the evolution and biology of this unusual ceratopsian. 

Previously in Pachyrhinosaurus:
Wapiti River Fieldwork, Part 1
Wapiti River Fieldwork, Part 2

And don’t forget to check out:
Fanti F, Currie PJ, Burns ME. 2015. Taphonomy, age, and paleoecological implication of a new Pachyrhinosaurus (Dinosauria: Ceratopsidae) bonebed from the Upper Cretaceous (Campanian) Wapiti Formation of Alberta, Canada. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, early view.

What’s new with Dino 101?

The third offering of Dino 101 kicked off again last week, and we’re already into our 2nd lesson, on taphonomy and fossilization. Here’s a quick update for what’s new this time around!

  • A new section about the palaeobiogeography of dinosaurs was filmed, including lots of new scenes at the Royal Tyrrell Museum
  • We get to show off the Edmontosaurus with the “cock’s comb”!
  • We added in some more information on non-dinosaurian critters from the Mesozoic throughout the course, including pterosaurs, marine reptiles, and early mammals
  • I made a bunch of new 3D models for our fossil viewer interactive – now you can enjoy the baby chasmosaur’s skull in three dimensions of terror and amazement!

These are all in addition to some of the snappy upgrades to version 2, like the section on the baby chasmosaur and the fancier study guides.

So far there’s more than 11 000 students registered in Dino 101 v3, which means we’ve now reached nearly 50 000 students from around the world! The on-campus versions of Dino 101, including the flipped/blended PALEO 201, are also underway, and the PALEO 201 team is making some new activities about dinosaur footprints and trackways. I’m sure they’re going to have a great time!

You can join the fun at Dino 101 for free – register now at Coursera! And you can follow the course in its various social media forms, including Facebook and Twitter.

Back to Hwaseong

This week I’ve been in Hwaseong city, Korea for the Hwaseong International Dinosaurs Expedition Symposium. I started this blog back in 2010 as a way to document my experiences working in the dino lab in Hwaseong, and so it was wonderful to be able to return more than three years later and see what’s new. The symposium highlights research following the conclusion of the five-year Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Project. Many thanks to Dr. Yuong-Nam Lee, the city of Hwaseong, and all of the other organizers and staff who invited us to present our work at this excellent conference!It was a special treat to see the new ankylosaur skeleton prepared and mounted in the lobby of our hotel! Watch out Tarbosaurus, you’re about to get a face full of tail club.

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Care of Magical Creatures

The University of Alberta is currently hosting an exhibit called Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine, in the John W. Scott Health Sciences Library. Let’s Talk Science, a Canadian science outreach organization with a U of A chapter, was asked to organize ‘classes’ for a Harry Potter-themed science day, so my good friend Scott Persons and I put together “Care of Magical Creatures”. You may think it would be hard to mix magic and mythology with science, but we were pretty happy with how much natural history education we were able to convey over the course of the day. For those interested in science outreach and education, here’s how to do your own Care of Magical Creatures class. You might be surprised by the results!

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Hugo’s Boss

I almost forgot to mention a fun bit of news coverage that happened during our Grande Prairie fieldwork. The first Pachyrhinosaurus skull to be prepared from the Wapiti River bonebed was nicknamed Hugo (for I hope obvious reasons…). It is on loan to the Grande Prairie Regional College for the next few months and is on display in a case beside their bookstore. The Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune did a nice little piece on the new display and features a completely awesome photo of Phil Currie and prep technician Susan Kagan.

Susan has been pummeling her way through the hard ironstone nodules that enclose the Wapiti River skulls – here is a photo from last fall of progress on the next skull to be prepared. It’s come a long way since then, but it takes a long time to get these guys ready.

Grande Prairie Regional College also has a full skeletal mount of Pachyrhinosaurus lakustai, the species known from the Pipestone Creek bonebed.

Ok, that should actually be the end of Pachyrhinosaurus updates for the next little while…