Dr. Don Brinkman, Field Experience Program Coordinator, Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology
This year, the Field Experience Program in Dinosaur Park ran from mid-July to the end of August. Projects included the excavation of a ceratopsian skeleton, prospecting for new specimens, and relocating and surveying old quarries.
The partial ceratopsian was a semi-articulated specimen reported to us many years ago by Gene Johnson, a rancher who owns the land adjacent to the east end of the park. Although we could tell it was a ceratopsian, it looked as though it was only a small part of the skeleton, so we didn't start excavating it until last year. It turned out to be far more complete than we dared hope. So much so that we twice underestimated the size of the quarry that we would need when we were removing overburden. The skeleton is disarticulated, but the elements have only shifted slightly from their original position. As it was uncovered, it appeared more fully to be a skeleton lying on its side. This is first ceratopsian skeleton that the Tyrrell Museum has collected from Dinosaur Provincial Park. The skeleton is located very high in the Dinosaur Park Formation, and from what we know of the distribution of ceratopsians in this formation, we expect it to be either Styracosaurus or the recently described species Chasmosaurus irvinensis. However, it could be a species not previously known in the park. To determine what kind of ceratopsian it is we need the frill. The skull is present, but it goes into the back wall of our quarry. We were only able to uncover the front part of the skull, and the frill remains buried. Completing the excavation of this specimen will be the priority for this coming summer.
Every year we maintain a program of continually looking for new specimens. This year some of the best specimens we found were turtles. We averaged over one significant specimen a week. One of these was a small turtle preserved with the skull and neck. Another is a large trionychid. Only the edge of the carapace of the trionychid was exposed when found, so the shell is complete. Once preparing the specimen was begun, we found that more than the shell is present. A lower jaw, two vertebrae from the tail, and a foot bone were sitting on top of the shell. More bones are sticking out from the underneath the shell, so when we turn it over, we expect to see more of the skeleton.
Phil Currie continued his program of relocating old quarries and revisiting known localities during the summer and again during the fall. With the help of Bill Spencer from BP and the staff from Ellipse Spatial Services, he is using a GPS (Global Positioning Systems) system to locate the quarries to within a few centimeters. This ongoing mapping project is being done to accurately plot all important paleontological and geological points in and around Dinosaur Provincial Park. This data, once synthesized, will result in an accurate map that will provide vital information for current and future researchers worldwide. Part of this project involves using photographs and other archival material to pinpoint old localities. Two quarries known from photographs only were relocated in the field. One of these was a partial tyrannosaurid skeleton collection in 1914 and the other a hadrosaur collected in 1916. Ultimately, this data will be used to examine the way in which dinosaur and other vertebrates are occurring in the park.
One of the questions that we are frequently asked is whether or not there is any way we can use some kind of remote sensing to find dinosaur bones. This summer we gave it a try. George Mason of Mason Exploration asked to try his ground penetrating radar systems to detect dinosaur bone. The ground penetrating radar system is a box the size of a briefcase that he drags over the ground at a slow but steady rate. It is connected to a lap top computer, and every few milliseconds it sends out radar waves. These bounce off surfaces resulting from changes in density, and by combining these echoes, the changes in density can be pinpointed. For a trial, we took his system to two localities, one was a bonebed (BB 30), and the other was an articulated, uncollected dinosaur. In both cases he was able to identify changes in density that corresponded to the expected position of dinosaur bone. The next trial will be this summer. Before we excavate our specimens he will survey them with the ground penetrating radar system. We can then compare the results of what we actually find with what he predicted from using the ground penetrating radar system. If successful, this will be a major addition to our work.
This summer the Tyrrell Museum will be continuing its work in Dinosaur Provincial Park. Our first priority will be to finish collecting the ceratopsian skeleton excavated last year. Once that is completed, we will start excavation of a small hadrosaur skeleton. We also will be continuing our ongoing prospecting program. Since Dinosaur Park is one of the richest Late Cretaceous dinosaur localities anywhere, new and exciting specimens are sure to be discovered.