Lady Luck visits the Alberta badlands

June’s palaeontology fieldwork in Alberta has come and gone, and since writing my last blog on the matter, I’m happy to say that our luck improved significantly. This was our best year yet!

On June 9, we stumbled across what proved to be the better part of a skull from the horned dinosaur Centrosaurus apertus. The skull occurred in a classic river channel deposit, and after some poking around, we uncovered both upper and lower jaws, the beak, and a long, forward-curving nose horn typical of the species. We jacketed the specimen with plaster and burlap, and were able to gruellingly hike it out of the badlands a few days later.

The Centrosaurus skull embedded in rock.

The partial Centrosaurus skull we found, with parts labelled. Check out the elongated, forward-curving nose horn. Image: Jordan Mallon © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Not long afterwards, on June 15, we happened upon a bonebed containing mixed bones from the same species of horned dinosaur. This didn’t come as a big surprise—the area of the South Saskatchewan River where we’ve been working is known to contain a vast Centrosaurus bonebed that spans some 2.3 sq. km, and we’ve come across it sporadically in prior years.

Jordan Mallon seated on ground as he maps the bonebed.

Here I am mapping the Centrosaurus bonebed. The view sure beats the one from my office.
Image: Jordan Mallon © Canadian Museum of Nature.

This newly discovered deposit is particularly rich, with more than 20 bones per square metre. Prospecting this site will keep us busy for years to come, and will be a great place to train prospective students of palaeontology. It boggles the mind to think what could be learned about the population structure of Centrosaurus from a rich bonebed as large as this.

Our last big find came on June 18, when we found the back end of a large Chasmosaurus skull eroding out of a hillside. It appears that the back of the bony frill had eroded away, but extensive pick-work by my crew and me showed that the rest of the frill and skull continues into the hill. We even managed to find a brow horn, which indicates that this is one of the rare, long-horned varieties of Chasmosaurus. Sadly, we weren’t able to fully excavate the skull because it was found relatively late in the field season, but we’ll hit the ground running with it next year.

View from above shows technician excavating Chasmosaurus skull from rock wall.

Scott Rufolo digs back into a mudstone wall to expose more of our long-horned Chasmosaurus skull.
Image: Jordan Mallon © Canadian Museum of Nature.

And thus ends a long but rewarding field season. I won’t lie; it’s nice to be home again with friends and family, and the cleanliness of civilization. I don’t miss the windy storms in camp, the sore feet, and the instant coffee and oatmeal for breakfast. But I can’t wait to get back out again next year, all the same. There’s still a lot of work to be done!

A selfie shows the palaeontology team in the back of a pick-up truck, which is loaded with the Centrosaurus skull wrapped in a plaster jacket.

A happy team! Dr. Jordan Mallon snaps a selfie from the back of a pick-up truck, which is loaded with the Centrosaurus skull his team had wrapped in a plaster jacket. With him are museum team members Scott Rufolo and Margaret Currie, as well as McGill University student Elizabeth Church. Image: Jordan Mallon © Canadian Museum of Nature.

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