Nodosaur fossil so well-preserved it boggles minds

Nodosaur fossil discovered in Alberta bitumen pit in 2011, about 110-112 million years old. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.

A dinosaur fossil that was discovered in a bitumen pit in Alberta, Canada, in 2011 is the best-preserved specimen of a nodosaur ever discovered, and it is truly a spectacle to behold. The herbivore died between 110 and 112 million years ago in a riverbed and was swept to sea where it was swiftly buried in the mud and sediment of the seabed. Resting on its back, the nodosaur’s soft tissues, armour plating and thorny ridges became mineralized, preserving its form in stone.

Composite of 8 images showing the fossil from overhead view. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.Scientists think the entire body was fossilized, but by the time mechanical excavator operator Shawn Funk unearthed it in the Millennium Mine, the front half of it from nose to hips, about nine feet long, was all that could be recovered. Nodosaurs averaged about 18 feet in length and weighed 3,000 pounds, so they were formidable creatures, although they lacked the flashy spiked tail club their ankylosaur cousins used to break the shins of would-be predators.

Royal Tyrrell Museum technician Mark Mitchell frees foot and scaly footpad from surrounding rock. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.The nodosaur is now in the capable hands of the experts at the fossil prep lab at Alberta’s Royal Tyrrell Museum. They determined that it is a new species of nodosaur as well as the oldest dinosaur ever discovered in Alberta. The painstaking work of excavating the mineralized beast from the surrounding rock has been visible to the public through the lab gallery window since its discovery.

Nodosaur's armour ridges. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.For those of us not in Alberta, National Geographic has been granted exclusive access to this extraordinary find. Photographer Robert Clark took many exceptional photographs, and even he, who has doubtless seen many wonders as a National Geographic photographer, was dumbfounded by the preservation of the nodosaur.

20-inch spikes jutting from nodosaur's shoulders. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.The more I look at it, the more mind-boggling it becomes. Fossilized remnants of skin still cover the bumpy armor plates dotting the animal’s skull. Its right forefoot lies by its side, its five digits splayed upward. I can count the scales on its sole. Caleb Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the museum, grins at my astonishment. “We don’t just have a skeleton,” he tells me later. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”

Ripple through the stone traces right shoulder blade. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.For paleontologists the dinosaur’s amazing level of fossilization—caused by its rapid undersea burial—is as rare as winning the lottery. Usually just the bones and teeth are preserved, and only rarely do minerals replace soft tissues before they rot away. There’s also no guarantee that a fossil will keep its true-to-life shape. Feathered dinosaurs found in China, for example, were squished flat, and North America’s “mummified” duck-billed dinosaurs, among the most complete ever found, look withered and sun dried.

Ribs in dark brown, osteoderms in light brown woven through with grey-blue stone. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.Paleobiologist Jakob Vinther, an expert on animal coloration from the U.K.’s University of Bristol, has studied some of the world’s best fossils for signs of the pigment melanin. But after four days of working on this one—delicately scraping off samples smaller than flecks of grated Parmesan—even he is astounded. The dinosaur is so well preserved that it “might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago,” Vinther says. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The right side of nodosaur's head. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.Some people are making Zuul comparisons, but scientists already snagged that little pop culture gem as the official name of an ankylosaur unearthed in Montana which also had spectacular soft-tissue fossilization. They called it Zuul crurivastator, meaning “Zuul, destroyer of shins,” which I think we can all agree is one of the all-time great feats of nomenclature. I think the Alberta nodosaur bears a more notable resemblance to the Gorn, of original Star Trek fame. That glaring blank eyesocket with the thorny brow ridge is so Gorny.

Nodosaur sees what you did there. Photo by Robert Clark for National Geographic.National Geographic has created a 3D virtual model of the nodosaur fossil that is one of the best I’ve ever seen. As you might expect, you can zoom in and out, turn it around and view it from different perspectives, but this one has tons of additional features. As you scroll, the parts are exploded and labeled so you can get a thorough idea of what bits go where and what function they performed. A drawing of a complete nodosaur as it would have looked in life is used to diagram what parts of it have survived in the fossil.

 

Share

RSS feed

7 Comments »

Comment by Tyranno Felix Rex
2017-05-17 03:49:25

Woahh ! ..

What could top Ichneumons on leashes, ammonites with 8m tracks and now -perfectly reserved- 9ft of an 18ft nodosaur ?

A leashed ankylosaur, maybe ? This probably won’t :no:

 
Comment by CinTam
2017-05-17 06:56:13

I looked at this on the Nat Geo site the other day and was astonished at the level of preservation of this amazing dinosaur! It’s the real deal…you can see every scale and detail. It looks like it’s about to get up and walk. Just incredible and so cool!

 
Comment by Mark Sheet.
2017-05-17 12:10:46

When I first saw this popping up on my G+ and Twitter feeds I thought it was a hoax. I’m glad it’s not! Amazing find!

 
Comment by Shane
2017-05-17 14:49:43

So well preserved, it seems if only it had been found a few minutes earlier, its life might have been saved.

 
Comment by BruceT
2017-05-17 14:59:54

If only it’s colon and it’s contents had been preserved our Livius would have likely been overcome with the joy one only knows when a lifelong dream has been realized, seeing perfectly preserved dinosaur turds.

Don’t give up the dream,Livius,there is still a chance. Who knows what they’ll spot when they scan the innards of the beast?

 
Comment by Grisù il draghetto
2017-05-17 17:15:35

Bruce, it should be enough to look at their teeth and see if there are claws. Gracefully, dinosaur poop is rather ‘petrified’ than ‘putrefied’, but in case anyone knows how T-Rexes gracefully made love to each other, do post it right here:

Almost no arms and tons of moving dinosaur mass to keep in balance ? What could THAT have looked and sounded like ? (I could imagine how turkeys are doing ‘it’ – Hi hi).

 
Comment by Cheryl
2017-05-17 21:54:38

Yessss, I’ve been seeing snippets of this around the interwebs, but they all just had the same one photo. I was hoping you’d post about it because we can always count on you to dig up more/better photos of things!

 
Name (required)
E-mail (required - never shown publicly)
URI

;) :yes: :thanks: :skull: :shifty: :p :ohnoes: :notworthy: :no: :love: :lol: :hattip: :giggle: :facepalm: :evil: :eek: :cry: :cool: :confused: :chicken: :boogie: :blush: :blankstare: :angry: :D :) :(

Your Comment (smaller size | larger size)

You may use <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> in your comment.

Navigation

Search

Archives

November 2017
S M T W T F S
« Oct    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Other

Add to Technorati Favorites

Syndication