Trackways #19, Winter 1999–A nearly complete Cretaceous-aged turtle has found its way to the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Not only are its skull, skeleton and shell intact, but its body cavity contains additional treasure: turtle eggs.

“The preservation of this specimen is remarkable,” says Museum palaeontologist Don Brinkman, who studies Cretaceous turtles. “Of all the turtle specimens found all over the world, there is only one other I’ve heard of that may also contain eggs.”

Found by Museum technician Wendy Sloboda in the remains of an ancient mud-filled channel, the turtle’s bones escaped reworking and scattering by scavengers and water currents. The specimen is Adocus, an extinct relative of today’s soft-shelled turtles. Seventy million years ago, it swam in freshwater streams and ponds, ate fish, frogs and salamanders, and likely came ashore to lay its eggs on warm, sandy beaches. However, this individual died before laying its eggs: its body is filled with dozens of eggs compressed by burial.

“We have more research to do before we learn all this specimen can tell us,” Brinkman says. “At the very least, we now know for sure that Adocus laid eggs and what Adocus eggshell looks like. This will help us identify in the future when we find shell fragments in the field.”

© Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology 1999

Trackways #19, Winter 1999: For years, when Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology technician Darren Tanke prospected in Dinosaur Provincial Park, he searched only for fossil bone eroding out of the ground. But, for a period in the late-1990s, he also looked for less likely treasure: old newspaper, dried clumps of plaster, tin cans and burlap… traces left by palaeontologists who collected fossils in the park during the 1920s and earlier.

Tanke was trying to locate historic quarries. From 1995, when he started his quest, to 1999, he had verified eight mystery quarries, using old garbage, archival photographs, field notes, and old letters to date excavation, identify who did the collecting, and what was collected.

“We found the quarry-location map made in 1950 is incomplete and somewhat inaccurate,” he says. “On top of that, palaeontologists started quarry-staking excavation sites in the park only in 1935, and locations excavated earlier are poorly described: ’10 miles below Steveville’ is a lot of territory in the badlands.”

Quarries are staked when palaeontologists cement a steel pipe into the floor of their quarries. A disk welded to the rod identified who collected what and when. In 1999, there were about 230 staked quarries in the park, leaving Tanke with the task of trying to find and identify another 150 to 2000 unmarked quarries.

Apart from their historical significance, accurate quarry records help today’s palaeontologists determine what dinosaurs are associated with which layers of rock. They also help scientists match new fossil material discovered in old quarries to incomplete specimens collected years ago.

Royal Tyrrell Museum ankylosaur. Photo by Travis S.

A cast of an armoured-dinosaur ankylosaur skeleton takes a tail-swing at an albertosaur at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.

Trackways #15, Fall 1998—In the world of palaeontology, ankylosaurs remain one of the Big Mysteries. The enigma stems from a lack of specimens to provide answers. Especially rare are good fossils from Alberta—that is, until this past season, the summer of ankylosaurs.

This year, researchers found eight specimens of the elusive armoured dinosaurs at Dinosaur Provincial Park. In just three months, the Tyrrell acquired the world’s most extensive fossil collection of these strange-looking, tank-like animals.

Among the finds are five skulls, raising the number of ankylosaur skulls in the museum’s collection to 14. These represent three known species, while one skull has yet to be identified. A skull provides the most information about the dinosaur it belongs to—its species, age, diet, and size. Since the first fossils were collected in Dinosaur Provincial Park more than a century ago, only 24 ankylosaur skulls have been discovered.

Now more than half of them rest in the Tyrrell’s care.

The ankylosaur windfall will help museum palaeontologists better understand how these unusual animals lived and how the different species were related to one another and to other dinosaurs. The new materials will also provide data on ankylosaur diversity, populations, and what roles ankylosaurs played within their Late Cretaceous ecosystems.

Ankylosaur armour. Photo by S. Mair.

Cobbles of bone lining its back provided the basis of ankylosaur armour.

© Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology 1998

Trackways #14, Spring 1998—When Walt Disney World opened Dinoland earlier this year, a little bit of Alberta shone beneath the Florida sun. As part of the attraction, Disney performers play palaeontologists explore the world of the dinosaurs. When looking for ways to immerse staff in dinosaur palaeontology, Disney looked north to the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

For five days in late winter, 10 performers learned to cast and prepare fossils, examined the spectacular specimens Museum staff are preparing, and toured the Museum from top to bottom. They also prospected for fossils in Dinosaur Provincial Park.

On the slopes of a park hoodoo, with dinosaur bones poking through the snow all around him, director Mark Renfrow couldn’t contain his excitement: he pulled out his cell phone and called his boss in Florida to rave about the experience.

Dinosaur Provincial Park, by Peter Hoven

Water and wind created the badlands in Dinosaur Provincial Park. Photo by Peter Hoven.

© Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology 1997

Alberta's Milk River, by James Bremner

The cliffs above Alberta's Milk River yielded the remains of a young hadrosaur in 1997.

Trackways #12, Fall 1997—When Lethbridge writer Shanan Timmers went for walk on the banks of the North Milk River west of Del Bonita, Alberta, earlier this summer, he stumbled across a find important to the world of palaeontology.

Jutting out from the overhanging river cutbank, far from where palaeontologists would have thought to look, were dinosaur bones.

It turns out the bones belong to a sub-adult hadrosaur, one of only a few half-grown hadrosaur skeletons ever recovered. When it was alive, the animal measured about three metres long and about two metres high at the hip.

The specimen may be the first dinosaur found in the St. Mary’s River rock formation. That, and its isolation from other know hadrosaur skeletons increase the possibility of it being a new species.

The pelvis, femur and base of the tail sticking ouf of the rock are beautifully articulated, suggesting that the from part of the animal may continue into the bank. However, until the animal is in the lab and prepared, scientists won’t know exactly how much of the animal is in place.

Before that can happen, collecting crews from the Royal Tyrrell Museum and Devil’s Coulee Interpretive Centre must remove the specimen from the overhang six metres above the river—without having bones fall and break in the riverbed. A heavy sandstone layer covering the fossil and access to the site only from above further complicate the excavation.

© Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology 1997