Royal Tyrrell staff re­vis­its past by trans­port­ing spec­i­men on Red Deer River

The Drumheller Mail - - NEWS - Kyle Smylie The Drumheller Mail sub­mit­ted

Last Tues­day, palaeon­tol­o­gists from the Tyrrell mu­seum were ex­ca­vat­ing the rare fos­silized re­mains of a cer­atop­sian from a bonebed about half­way up a val­ley wall near the Tol­man Bridge when they found that the rock, a jum­bled and min­gled mass of fos­silized bones weigh­ing up to 300 pounds, was much too heavy to haul over 700 me­tres up to the prairies and back to their trucks. deal­ing with a cum­ber­some ex­ca­va­tion up the hill­side through nar­row pas­sages to prairie level, and then al­most a kilo­me­tre to their ve­hi­cle, when by co­in­ci­dence he spoke to two col­leagues work­ing on the mu­seum’s flood mit­i­ga­tion pro­gram, which sur­veys Red Deer River val­ley by boat for flood dam­age to po­ten­tially sig­nif­i­cant sites.

“We asked if there was any chance they were go­ing out on the river any­time soon and they said they were ac­tu­ally go­ing out that day,” Ther­rien said. “I said ‘you’re kidding, you’re my new best friend.’”

They co­or­di­nated a ren­dezvous point and time and six palaeon­tol­o­gists car­ried the burlap jacket 50 me­tres down the hill­side and loaded it onto the boat and eas­ily shipped it back to the mu­seum for study.

Ther­rien said it’s a rare oc­cur­rence to ex­ca­vate a fos­sil by boat as palaeon­tol­o­gists typ­i­cally trans­port spec­i­mens, if they’re small enough, by hand or back­pack to their ve­hi­cles.

“Most of the time we are in the bad­lands where we’re not close to the river or can ac­cess the bad­lands by road. Some­times we’ll ask landowners, many are farm­ers, to use their ATVs – it’s what­ever method that is at our dis­posal and is most con­ve­nient. If a block is too heavy we’ll even call in the cavalry and get a he­li­copter in,” he said.

In a way, the ex­ca­va­tion harkened back to the young days of palaeon­tol­ogy, the days of which Drumheller’s his­tory as a cen­tre of di­nosaur stud­ies be­gan, where early sci­en­tists set off by boat down the Red Deer River from Red Deer in search of the big dis­cov­ery that would give them a name, an­chor­ing their barges to set up prospect­ing camps on the shore be­fore mov­ing on down the river to the next stop.

“In those days that was the eas­i­est method. Some­times they’d have ac­cess to horses with wag­ons and use those to haul jack­ets out of the val­ley and to the near­est town or train sta­tion,” Ther­rien said.

And just how does to­day’s ex­ca­va­tions com­pare to then?

“We were jok­ing about that on Wed­nes­day when we were car­ry­ing an­other jacket up the val­ley. We keep say­ing palaeon­tol­o­gists in the early 20th cen­tury had it hard com­pared to us, hav­ing to do ev­ery­thing by hand, but the truth is they had their boats and horses and we don’t. We rely so much on trucks now that we’re limited in terms of how close we can get to the bad­lands via sur­faced roads. In re­al­ity we ac­tu­ally carry those jack­ets a far­ther way than the early palaeon­tol­o­gists were do­ing, so we had a chuckle over that.”

“Us­ing a boat was def­i­nitely a lux­ury… and now that the boat is out of stor­age and we know how to use it, it is def­i­nitely go­ing to be a method we use more of­ten when it’s con­ve­nient,” Ther­rien said.

Palaeon­tol­o­gists from the Royal Tyrrell Mu­seum ex­ca­vated rare fos­sils from a bonebed near Tol­man Bridge by boat on Tues­day, a rare oc­cur­rence to­day that used to be a pri­mary method in the past.

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