Edmontosaurus in Edmonton

Happy 2015, readers! So many exciting things are happening right now – the Dino Hunt Canada website launched a few weeks ago and the documentary will air on History Channel Canada later this month, things are chugging away here in North Carolina, and the Danek Edmontosaurus Bonebed special issue of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences was published just before Christmas. There’s already been lots of great coverage of the special issue, but I wanted to share a few thoughts here as well.

Please enjoy these very fine Edmontosaurus bones!

The special issue on this bonebed came about when Mike Burns and I got to talking about how the Albertosaurus Bonebed special issue had been such a good motivation for the lab to do some collaborative projects, and given that the PALEO 400 fieldschool students needed to develop research projects on the bonebed, wouldn’t it make sense to try to polish those into publishable form as well? This was back in 2012, and at that point there’d been 6 years of really good fieldschool students who had come up with a variety of interesting small-scale independent research projects. We put out a call to current and former students to see if anyone would be interested in expanding their project and contributing it to the volume, and also invited some of our colleagues who were working on hadrosaurs and/or bonebeds in some way to see if they would be interested in working on the material as well. Not all of the former students contributed papers, but I was really pleased by the number who did – it’s a big job to get a paper through peer-review, and I’m really proud of all the first-time papers in this issue!

Albertosaurus tooth!

It’s also been really rewarding to watch our volunteer fossil prep program grow over the years I was at the UofA – we started with a few volunteers here and there, but in recent years we’ve had as many as 8-12 people working in the lab on a weekday evening. We run two shifts of volunteers – an evening program from 5-7pm on some combination of Mondays to Thursdays, depending on the schedules of the grad students who supervise the volunteers, and a daytime program by appointment in our larger basement laboratory with the larger and more challenging projects. Most people start in our evening lab programs, and many of the bones prepared during those hours were from the Danek bonebed. The Danek material is amazingly good for volunteers – with a bit of soaking, the surrounding shaley matrix flakes off the relatively durable bones. We would never have gotten through all of that material so quickly without the dedicated help of a very large crew of volunteers! If you’re reading this from Edmonton and are interested in volunteering in the DinoLab, follow our Facebookpage for up-to-date contact information and hours.

Ian is a shoveling machine!

Although I haven’t gone out to the bonebed for the full 3 weeks each year, I’ve tried to get out at least a little bit each year, even if it’s only for ‘overburden removal’ days. It’s amazing how much dirt we’ve moved since my first year there in 2007! Because the bonebed is located in a nature preserve, we need to be a bit careful with how we handle the overburden – we can’t let too much sediment get into the creek, and we also can’t just cover up existing plants. What we’ve taken to doing is removing the topsoil from a ‘meadow’ nearby, evenly spreading the relatively sterile Quaternary sands/gravels in the clearing, and then ‘replanting’ the topsoil overtop and sprinkling with local plant seeds. We dig in the early spring, and by July the area is so green you’d never even know we had disturbed it. The bonebed is a beautiful place to work – we see lots of interesting wildlife because of the stream nearby, the matrix surrounding the bones is soft and incredibly easy to work with, and the bones are plentiful.

Clearing the ‘meadow’.

Sometimes it’s cold in April in Edmonton!

One of the things we mentioned in the press materials for the special volume is the presence of other dinosaur fossils throughout Edmonton and the surrounding areas. I have a hunch that if you dig pretty much anywhere in Edmonton, you’re probably going to hit a dinosaur bone at some point. There’ve been dinosaurs in the sewers and dinosaurs in the pipelines, and dinosaur bones pop up along the North Saskatchewan River with relative frequency. If you think you’ve found a dinosaur bone in Edmonton, make sure you understand the laws protecting fossils in Alberta – you need a permit to dig up fossils in Alberta, and fossils should be stored in accredited facilities like the Royal Tyrrell Museum of the University of Alberta Laboratory for Vertebrate Paleontology. But if you find something, tell the University of Alberta about it! Take a picture of what you found, and if you have the ability to mark the latitude and longitude with a GPS or your phone, do that too. You can get in touch with us via the DinoLab Facebook page. Maybe you will be the next person to stumble across a dinosaur in your city!

Not in Edmonton? The Danek Bonebed is where much of the taphonomy and fieldwork lesson for Dino 101 was filmed! The 4th session of Dino 101 started today, so go have a look if you’re interested in learning more about the bonebed.

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Scaling Up

Let’s turn our attention from hadrosaur skin to ankylosaur skin, a topic which has received surprisingly less attention in the published literature than I would have thought. I should qualify that statement, however, by saying that by ‘ankylosaur skin’ I mean ankylosaur skin impressions, because ankylosaur dermal elements are well known and the focus of many a paper – I refer of course to osteoderms, which form within the dermis of the skin and which give ankylosaurs their spiky and armoured appearance.

For a couple of years now I’ve been keeping notes about occurrences of skin impressions in ankylosaurs, which eventually lead to a paper by myself, Mike Burns, Phil Bell, and Phil Currie. We reviewed the morphology of scale patterns in the few specimens that preserve skin, and found that there were some intriguing differences in scalation between different ankylosaurs.

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Cock-a-doodle-doo

I’ve finally got the time and gumption to sit down and write again, so let’s do some research blogging! And let’s show some skin while we’re at it!

The first paper I’ll talk about is not one that I’m lead author on, but which was a really fun project to be involved in. This was the description of a super cool specimen of a hadrosaur from the area around Grande Prairie with some impressive skin impressions. UALVP 53722 was collected as a large block that had fallen along the creekside. Unfortunately, the rest of the skeleton could not be located, which might mean it’s still in situ somewhere with nothing visible, or it had already broken apart into unrecognizable pieces. The block preserves the back of the skull with the neck arched over the shoulders, the classic ‘death pose’ seen in many dinosaur skeletons. Most of the skull is missing, but what is present shows that it is an Edmontosaurus regalis, the slightly older species of Edmontosaurus

Flat-headed Edmontosaurus at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

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Let’s Build the Currie Museum!

A message from my colleague Dr. Phil Bell:

Hi all,

Some of you are already aware of the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, which is scheduled to be built in Grande Prairie, but certainly all of you are aware of Philip Currie himself. As part of the final push to raise the remaining construction funds, we have launched a crowd-fundraising campaign on www.indiegogo.com/curriemuseum. The aim is to raise $1,000,000 in 120 days. In the first hour alone, we raised $1,600!

Every donation, no matter how small, is important and donors are rewarded with a range of increasingly cool gifts including a museum logo pin, t-shirts, and original artwork by palaeo-art master Julius Csotonyi. It’s all outlined on the website, so please check it out, spread the word, and help us build a world-class museum and research institute.

Many thanks!

Phil Bell

Head Palaeontologist

Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative

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Crystal ROM

Now that I’ve talked about the ROM‘s current offerings of temporary special dinosaur exhibits, I thought I’d turn my attention to the permanent fossil galleries. The ROM has long been one of my favourite museums, and as a student of palaeontology the only museum I have visited more often for my research is the Tyrrell. The last five years have seen some major renovations at the ROM, including the construction of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. Continue reading

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Happy Campers

This is Happy Jack’s (or as it used to be called, Old Mexico Ranch), an old homestead occupied by Happy Jack Jackson from 1903 to 1942. There are a couple of log cabins, some with cacti growing on the roof. Happy Jack’s is found on the north side of the Red Deer River in Dinosaur Provincial Park, and is the home base for the Currie Lab when we do fieldwork in DPP.  Continue reading

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Danek Bonebed

The summer is over and school is back in session. Here in Edmonton the leaves already started to turn yellow last week. And somehow the summer got so busy that I hardly posted anything at all here. So, it’s nice to fix that up and talk about what I did on my summer ‘vacation’, by which I mean the time that undergrads are not at university but grad students are.

The ‘summer’ (which doesn’t really start until mid-June in Edmonton, but whatevs) started up with the PALEO 400 field school in early May. For three weeks, students help excavate the Danek Bonebed, a hadrosaur bonebed located right in the city (but in a secret location, to prevent vandalism). Over the course of those three weeks, they get to do everything: shoveling lots of dirt, uncovering bones with fine tools, plaster jacketing, carrying heavy things back to the truck, quarry mapping, field identification, you name it. Each student comes up with a research project related to the bonebed and writes a paper and/or presents a talk in October. This year we had five enthusiastic students and I am looking forward to hearing all about their projects later this fall.

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5 Questions for Phil Bell

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s interview with Caleb, here’s an interview with Phil Bell of the Pipestone Creek Dinosaur Initiative. Phil is a former Currie Lab member who completed his PhD last spring, focusing on the Mongolian and North American hadrosaur Saurolophus. He recently published a paper on skin impressions in Saurolophus. Thanks to David Lloyd of the Tyrrell Museum for the great photos of work at the Dragon’s Tomb in 2010! Continue reading