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© Royal Tyrrell Museum
© Royal Tyrrell Museum

Dinosaur Fossils Don’t Get Much Better Than This

© Royal Tyrrell Museum
© Royal Tyrrell Museum

Attention dinosaur nerds: if you haven’t already, you’re going to want to add Alberta, Canada, to your bucket list, as the province now hosts one of the most spectacular dino fossils the world has ever seen.

Alberta is well known as home to one of the densest dinosaur deposits on the planet. The Canadian Rockies in general are rich in both fossils and fossil fuels, and the search for one has not infrequently led to the other. The latest stunner was unearthed in 2011 by workers in a mine near Fort McMurray, who knew something was amiss when their bucket pulled up oddly patterned, deep-brown lumps of some unfamiliar mineral. They dug in farther, more carefully, and that’s when they found it: a 9-foot-long chunk of monster, sculpted in stone.

But there had been no sculptor, only time and happenstance. The 2500-pound stone that eventually emerged was not a skull, or a footprint, or an egg. It was a petrified dinosaur.

“We don’t just have a skeleton,” Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, where the dinosaur is on display, told National Geographic. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”


©Royal Tyrrell Museum

And not just any dinosaur, either. The hulking, armored beast preserved in the oil sands is new to science, the first of its species ever found. We know that it’s a type of ankylosaur called a nodosaur, and that its last days likely took place somewhere between 110 and 112 million years ago.


©Royal Tyrrell Museum

The recovered fossil contains only the dinosaur’s front end to its hips. In life, the nodosaur would have been 18 feet long and almost 3000 pounds. If that wasn’t enough to keep the haters away, it also had a pair of 20-inch spikes protruding from its shoulders, like a boss. Even in death, this herbivore looks tough.

Needless to say, dinosaur researchers are beside themselves with glee. The preservation is so good, paleobiologist Jakob Vinther of the University of Bristol told National Geographic, that “it might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago.”

[h/t National Geographic]

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María Ríos et al / PLOS One
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Animals
Scientists Unearth a Giraffe Ancestor That Had Four Horns Instead of Two
María Ríos et al / PLOS One
María Ríos et al / PLOS One

The recently uncovered fossil of an early giraffe ancestor exhibits some noticeable differences from its modern giraffe descendants. It's several feet shorter, roamed Europe instead of Africa, and sports four horns on its head instead of two. As The New York Times reports, the discovery, outlined in a recent study in the journal PLOS One, sheds new light on the evolutionary history of the long-necked mammals.

The fossil belongs to a newly discovered species of extinct giraffe dubbed Decennatherium rex. It was excavated near Madrid, Spain along with the remains of three other specimens of the same animal, but the other fossils don't compare to the near-complete condition of the first. The creatures lived in the area 9 million years ago, moving the timeline of giraffids' presence in Europe further back than experts previously thought.

The ancient species stood 9 feet tall, making it shorter than today's giraffes. While D. rex lacked the modern giraffe's distinctive towering neck, paleontologists were able to classify it as a member of the same family by looking for its double-lobed canine teeth and the bony protrusions on its head called ossicones. Giraffes and okapis are the only remaining members of their family (though the giraffes we think of as one species may actually consist of four), and they both have one set of two ossicones that rise straight from the top of the skull.

Artist rendering of giraffe relative.

In addition to the two small horns at the front of its head, D. rex also appears to have had a second set. This feature differed in females and males: In the female D. rex, ossicones grew to be about 2 inches, while in males their second set could reach up to 16 inches. Though they varied in size, the fact that ossicones appeared in both sexes suggests that they didn't just evolve as a way for males to compete for mates.


The details of giraffe evolution, like how the species developed its elongated neck, are mysteries scientists are just starting to unravel. This most recent discovery adds another important link in the long history of the Giraffidae family.

[h/t The New York Times]

All images courtesy of María Ríos et al. in PLOS One

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Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
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science
Feathers, Fighting, and Feet: A Brief History of Dinosaur Art
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

One of the first-known works of dinosaur art was The country of the Iguanodon, an 1837 watercolor by John Martin. It depicts the ancient reptiles as giant iguanas, thrashing and fighting near a stone quarry—a far cry from today's sophisticated 3D renderings.

By watching the PBS Eons video below, you can learn how our image of dinosaurs has changed over the centuries, thanks to artworks based on new scientific discoveries and fossil findings. Find out why artists decided to give the prehistoric creatures either feathers or scales, make them either active or sluggish, present them as walking on two or four feet, and to imagine tails that either dragged or lifted, among other features.

Keep in mind, however, that both emerging technologies and new findings are constantly changing the way scientists view dinosaurs. A new species, on average, is named every two weeks—and this research will likely keep artists busy (and constantly revising their work) for years to come.

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