AN iNcrEdiblE hoNour
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.