Save this content for laterSave this content on your device for later, even while offline Sign in with FacebookSign in with your Facebook account Close

‘Rare as winning the lottery’: New dinosaur fossil so well-preserved it looks like a statue

By: Travis M. Andrews, The Washington Post
May 13, 2017 Updated: May 14, 2017 at 12:17 pm
0

photo - A close-up of the nodosaur fossil. The dinosaur’s head is clearly visible. (Robert Clark/ National Geographic)
A close-up of the nodosaur fossil. The dinosaur’s head is clearly visible. (Robert Clark/ National Geographic) 

Before being assembled into something recognizable at a museum, most dinosaur fossils look to the casual observer like nothing more than common rocks. No one, however, would confuse the over 110 million-year-old nodosaur fossil for a stone.

The fossil, being unveiled today in Canada’s Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, is so well preserved it looks like a statue.

Even more surprising might be its accidental discovery, as unveiled in the June issue of National Geographic magazine.

On March 21, 2011, Shawn Funk was digging in Alberta’s Millennium Mine with a mechanical backhoe, when he hit “something much harder than the surrounding rock.” A closer look revealed something that looked like no rock Funk had ever seen, just “row after row of sandy brown disks, each ringed in gunmetal gray stone.”

A model showing how the nodosaur likely appeared. (Robert Clark/ National Geographic)  

What he had found was a 2,500-pound dinosaur fossil, which was soon shipped to the museum in Alberta, where technicians scraped extraneous rock from the fossilized bone and experts examined the specimen.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes — it was a dinosaur,” Donald Henderson, the curator of dinosaurs at the museum, told Alberta Oil. “When we first saw the pictures we were convinced we were going to see another plesiosaur (a more commonly discovered marine reptile).”

More specifically, it was the snout-to-hips portion of a nodosaur, a “member of the heavily-armored ankylosaur subgroup,” that roamed during the Cretaceous Period, according to Smithsonian. This group of heavy herbivores, which walked on four legs, likely resembled a cross between a lizard and a lion — but covered in scales.

Unlike its cousins in the ankylosaur subgroup, the nodosaur lacked a bony club at the end of its tail, instead using armor plates, thick knobs and two 20-inch spikes along its armored side for protection, according to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

“These guys were like four-footed tanks,” dinosaur tracker Ray Stanford told The Washington Post in 2012.

This particular one, according to a news release, was 18 feet long and weighed around 3,000 pounds.

As Michael Greshko wrote for National Geographic, such level of preservation “is a rare as winning the lottery.” He continued:

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.”

The reason this particular dinosaur was so well preserved is likely due to a stroke of good luck. (Well, perhaps a stroke of bad luck for the poor nodosaur.)

Researchers believe it was on a river’s edge, perhaps having a drink of water, when a flood swept it downriver.

Eventually, the land creature floated out to the sea — which the mine where it was found once was — and sank to the bottom.

There, minerals quickly “infiltrated the skin and armor and cradled its back, ensuring that the dead nodosaur would keep its true-to-life form as eons’ worth of rock piled atop it.”

That is a boon to researchers, particularly given that teeth and bone fragments are much more common finds.

“Even partially complete skeletons remain elusive,” Smithsonian reported.

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Incognito Mode Your browser is in Incognito mode

You vanished!

We welcome you to read all of our stories by signing into your account. If you don't have a subscription, please subscribe today for daily award winning journalism.

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

It appears that you value local journalism. Thank you.

Subscribe today for unlimited digital access with 50% fewer ads for a faster browsing experience.

Already a Subscriber? LOGIN HERE

Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

It appears that you value local journalism. Thank you.

Subscribe today for unlimited digital access with 50% fewer ads for a faster browsing experience.

Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

Some news is free.
Exceptional journalism takes time, effort and your support.

Already a Subscriber? LOGIN HERE

articles remaining
×
Thank you for your interest in local journalism.
Gain unlimited access, 50% fewer ads and a faster browsing experience.