We’re back!

Having spent the better part of June tromping around Alberta in search of fossils, my team (Margaret Currie and Scott Rufolo) and I are home again. And as much as we spent time out there belly-aching about the weather, the insects, the lack of amenities, and so on, we miss it dearly. Same story every year.

The good news is that we had another great field season, which is reason enough to return next year. Aside from the finds I wrote about previously, we made a number of other cool discoveries.

Scott found a third, extensive microsite, which we took time to sample carefully for small vertebrate fossils, as we did at the other two. A microsite is a dense accumulation of small vertebrate fossils, which includes the smallest bones and teeth of the largest animals, as well as various parts from the smaller fauna. Together, these sites should give us a good idea about the biodiversity of the South Saskatchewan River area about 75 million years ago.

Scott Rufalo collects samples at a fossil site while sitting on ground.
Scott samples a rich microsite that he found. Image: Jordan Mallon © Canadian Museum of Nature.

We also collected some bits and pieces of a small meat-eating (theropod) dinosaur eroding out of a hillside. Small theropod bones, like those of their avian descendants, tend to be very fragile and, unfortunately, erode quite readily. I think we got enough, though, that we should be able to tell which species we found. (Interesting side story: while collecting the theropod, we had a close encounter with a Northern Scorpion!) We were sure to nab the soft-shelled turtle mentioned in my previous blog post, too.

Two people on hillside collect remains of a dinosaur.
Scott and Margaret collect the eroded remains of a small theropod dinosaur from a hillside. Image: Jordan Mallon © Canadian Museum of Nature.
Closeup of a scorpion.
Surprise! While collecting the theropod, we came face-to-face with a Northern Scorpion (Paruroctonus boreus). Image: Jordan Mallon © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Did I mention the two new horned dinosaur bonebeds that we found? These are sites where we find numerous, disarticulated individuals mixed together, probably a result of their remains having been reworked by an ancient river channel.

Closeup of an exposed dinosaur fossil in ground.
Exposing a horned dinosaur bonebed that we plan to develop next year. Note the broken thighbone (femur) and tail vertebra. Image: Jordan Mallon © Canadian Museum of Nature.

From what we could tell, the bonebeds appear to be fairly extensive—somewhere on the order of tens of metres wide, where exposed. Uncovering these sites would have been far too much work, given our limited time and resources, but I hope to return with some students next year to develop them properly.

Remains of an exposed fossil shell of a turtle in ground.
A beautiful soft-shelled turtle, as found. The rippled texturing of the shell betrays its identify. Image: Jordan Mallon © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Bonebeds can tell you all sorts of interesting things about herding behaviour, population structure, and predation. I’m all ears

If I have one disappointment about this field season, it’s that we weren’t able to find a nicely articulated dinosaur skeleton—something to really rally around. I suppose I shouldn’t be too upset, though—at last count, it takes about 66 person-days to search out a good specimen in the ideal setting of the well-studied Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta. By my estimation, we’re now at about 70 days, including last year’s expedition. That means we should be due for a big find next year! I can’t wait to get back…

Read previous blogs about this fieldwork:

Alberta Bound! Returning to hunt for dinosaur fossils
From foothills to badlands—fossil discoveries in Alberta