AN iN­crEd­i­blE hoNour

Calgary Sun - - NEWS -

Mark Mitchell knows ev­ery nook and cranny of a di­nosaur that plod­ded around Al­berta 110 mil­lion years ago.

A species of no­dosaur, the crea­ture was an ar­moured fel­low with a pen­chant for plants.

When he died, he was swept out to sea, his re­mains be­com­ing part of the bedrock un­til he was un­cov­ered in the Sun­cor

Mil­len­nium Mine near Fort McMur­ray in 2011.

The lat­est study of his re­mains found a red-brown pig­ment, which au­thors claim to be the di­nosaur’s likely colour.

Mitchell jokes that makes the di­nosaur a red­head, just like him.

A tech­ni­cian at the Royal Tyrrell Mu­seum, Mitchell worked on the no­dosaur for the best part of the past six years — al­most 7,000 hours.

When he was sum­moned to his boss’s of­fice at the mu­seum last Mon­day, he had an inkling about why he was there.

As a re­ward for his work and ded­i­ca­tion, Mitchell was told, the new species of di­nosaur would bear his name. It would be called the Bo­re­alopelta mark­mitchel­lii. Re­lay­ing the story Thurs­day to the Jour­nal, he said he “kind of cheered ’Ya­hoo!’“and threw his arms in the air. Then he went out for din­ner, qui­etly pat­ting him­self on the back. Mitchell’s lips were to re­main firmly closed with the news; no­body, he was told, could know about the name un­til Aug. 3. “Some­times I re­ally al­most said some­thing, but then I had to re­mind my­self,” he said with a chuckle.

Work­ing with di­nosaurs was Mitchell’s child­hood dream.

He started at the Royal Tyrrell in 1996, and has worked on be­tween 25 and 30 spec­i­mens.

But his time work­ing on the no­dosaur was the “crown jewel” of his ca­reer.

“This one beats all the oth­ers,” he said.

When it landed on his desk, the fos­sil was in sev­eral pieces, from small chip­pets to huge chunks weigh­ing sev­eral thou­sand pounds.

“I knew it was go­ing to be a chal­lenge,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t know it would be a new species, but I knew it was go­ing to be a sig­nif­i­cant spec­i­men.” He was right. The Bo­re­alopelta mark­mitchel­lii is thought to be one of the best pre­served di­nosaurs in the world.

When the fin­ished prod­uct of Mitchell and his col­leagues’ painstak­ing work went on dis­play at the Royal Tyrrell in May, it re­ceived in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion, and Al­berta’s Cul­ture and Tourism Min­is­ter Ri­cardo Mi­randa gushed about the in­cred­i­ble honour be­stowed on the mu­seum tech­ni­cian.

“We are for­tu­nate to have such tal­ent and ex­cel­lence here in Al­berta con­tribut­ing to the global pa­le­on­to­log­i­cal record and pre­serv­ing our pro­vin­cial his­tory,” Mi­randa said.

Mitchell feels a spe­cial tie to the di­nosaur that now bears his name.

“I was the first per­son to see any of it,” he said.

Mitchell will soon make a small sculp­ture of his di­nosaur — one of his hob­bies — and is look­ing for­ward to the mu­seum gift shop stock­ing Bo­re­alopelta mark­mitchel­lii T-shirts.

“I hope to start see­ing it in chil­dren’s di­nosaur books soon,” he said, a smile in his voice.

“I had a lot of those books as a kid, and I’ll be able to say, ’Hey, I know that di­nosaur.’ “

This hand­out il­lus­tra­tion shows the 110-mil­lion-year-old Bo­re­alopelta mark­mitchelli on view at the Royal Tyrrell Mu­seum of Palaeon­tol­ogy in Drumheller. The 5.5-me­tre-long no­dosaur came com­plete with fully ar­moured skin.

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