Hunting a historic quarry for signs of Canada’s first dinosaur

The museum’s dinosaur researcher, Dr. Jordan Mallon, is leading his first field expedition this June accompanied by collections technician Margaret Currie. Follow their three-week journey to southeastern Alberta in search of dinosaur remains. Their first foray is a side trip to explore a historically important quarry.

A few days after landing in Alberta, we arrived in Drumheller to pick up some supplies. While here, we thought we might try to relocate an important historical site in the area: the quarry where Joseph Tyrrell collected his famous Albertosaurus sarcophagus (a tyrannosaurid) skull in August of 1884.

The skull of Albertosaurus in the museum’s collections.

Curator Kieran Shepherd with a cast of the skull of Albertosaurus sarcophagus in the museum’s fossil collections. Image: Dan Smythe © Canadian Museum of Nature.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this find—it effectively initiated dinosaur hunting in Canada. The skull now resides in the Canadian Museum of Nature’s national collections. By relocating the quarry, we are hoping that we might also find the rest of the skeleton.

Using an old map on which Tyrrell marked his find, and some related correspondence describing the area, we ventured off into the badlands around Drumheller in search of the lost quarry. Joining us were David Eberth, Darren Tanke, and Francois Therien from the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

We were quick to find the spot where Tyrrell camped that fateful day—a low grassy area near the mouth of a large valley. It would have been a perfect spot for Tyrrell and his crew to pitch their tents and graze their horses. A nearby creek (which we were forced to ford in our bare feet several times) would have provided easy access to water. On either side of the valley rose steep walls a few hundred feet tall, comprised of sandstones, mudstones, and coals.

A woman with pants rolled up crosses a stream.

Collections technician Margaret Currie forges a creek at the end of a long day. Image: Jordan Mallon © Canadian Museum of Nature.

It was amazing to look out on this scenery, knowing that we were effectively looking at the birthplace of Canadian dinosaur palaeontology.

Landscape with hill of sedimentary rock.

A view of the rocks that Joseph Tyrrell would have studied and prospected for fossils in 1884. Image: Jordan Mallon © Canadian Museum of Nature.

The morning and afternoon was spent clambering up the valley’s steep walls in search of signs of Tyrrell’s quarry: perhaps some old garbage, a string of neck vertebrae, or a hole in the ground. Unfortunately, our search turned up nothing but some scrappy duck-billed dinosaur bones and a few skinned knees.

It was a disappointing outcome, but I don’t think we’re going to give up. The Albertosaurus fossil is much too important. Finding the quarry where it came from would yield useful information about the distribution of this animal in the rock record. Finding the remainder of the skeleton, which the aforementioned correspondence suggests is there, would help us better understand its anatomy. We will have to regroup and plan to relocate the quarry again some other time.

Read previous blogs about this fieldwork:

This entry was posted in Fieldwork, Fossils, History, Research and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Hunting a historic quarry for signs of Canada’s first dinosaur

  1. Pingback: Dangers of the Badlands | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

  2. Pingback: Les dangers des badlands | Le blogue du Musée canadien de la nature

  3. Pingback: Trenching a Turtle—Saving a Fossil for Study | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

  4. Pingback: Bonebeds and dinosaur remains—three weeks of prospecting in Alberta | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

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